DPM Tharman: No Major Bank Lapses Reported in Russian Money Laundering Probe

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Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam reported on January 8 that no major lapses have been discovered in the investigation into the alleged involvement of Singaporean banks in a multibillion-dollar Russian money laundering scam. Mr Tharman made this statement in a response that he wrote to Aljunied GRC MP Sylvia Lim.

Per Mr Tharman, that while the investigation conducted by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) was yet unfinished, the probe had not revealed any money laundering anomalies in local banks.

Additionally, Mr Tharman said that banks had already taken measures to mitigate risks  as soon as banks had any suspicion of questionable incidents related to money laundering.

Ms Lim had inquired concerning any probes launched by local officials with regards to banks in Singapore that had possibly gotten involved with “The Russian Laundromat,” a money-laundering scheme.

In an article published on March 20 of last year, an international NGO consortium, the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), had reported that between 2011 and 2014, more than 20 billion US dollars (S$27.69 billion) had been laundered from 19 Russian banks in 96 countries. US $77 million had reportedly passed through bank accounts in Singapore. Additionally, US $608 million had flowed through Switzerland, US $916 thorough mainland China and US $927 through Hong Kong.

Since Singapore is a well-known world finance and business hub, considerable amounts of money pass through its banks every day. According to Mr Tharman, “To put the total US$77 million that was allegedly laundered through Singapore into perspective, the banking system saw US$357 billion of financial flows in total over the same period.”

However, no matter the amount, the MAS takes allegations of money laundering very seriously indeed, having put in place strict protocols to combat not only money laundering but also providing funds to terrorist organizations. In his response to Ms. Lim, Mr. Tharman wrote that it is the obligation of banks and other financial institutions to conduct sufficient due diligence concerning their clients—-including activities such as watching fund flows closely, refusing to accommodate questionable clients and duly reporting transactions that are suspicious.

Mr Tharman also added that Singapore’s officials had been collaborating with other countries in order to conduct a thorough investigation. “As money laundering schemes are increasingly complex and cross-border in nature, international cooperation is critical in identifying, disrupting, and deterring illicit activities,” Mr Tharman said.

Netizens took exception to the word “major” in DP Tharman’s response to Ms Lim.

Others felt that the amount of US $77 million was significant enough to merit careful investigation.