SINGAPORE: One of the biggest stories of 2023 was the S$2.8 billion money laundering case that first made the news in August. The case, the biggest in Singapore’s history, saw the arrest of ten people—nine men and one woman—who are of Chinese origin but who all carry foreign passports. It is suspected that many others who committed similar offences are still at large.

The large-scale money laundering case came as a shock to Singapore, what with its squeaky-clean image. Not that the rest of the world is exempt, as money laundering has been rising along with rapid technological developments. It has been estimated by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) that between two and five per cent of global GDP is laundered each year.

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Nevertheless, the sheer amount of assets involved in the August bust came as a shock— with luxury real estate, vehicles, luxury goods, gold bars, cryptocurrencies, and cars all seized as part of the arrests of the 10 individuals.

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A recent Bloomberg article noted that Singapore has received an above-average rating in its fight against illegal funds, according to the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force and the Basel Institute on Governance. Nevertheless, the system may have weak links, including those in the real estate sector.

A total of 152 properties have been seized so far, and several individuals were arrested in the August round-up of rented GCBs—Good Class Bungalows—that fetch high prices in Singapore. The properties include luxury villas on Sentosa and shophouses in the business district.

Bloomberg noted that one of the suspects, Wang Dehai, is the owner of a S$23 million condominium in Orchard Road.

“The seizure of so many high-end properties has spawned questions about whether realtors have been too lax in spotting red flags. The Council for Estate Agencies, the local industry regulator, is investigating if any lapses occurred,” the Bloomberg report reads.

It cited Mr Ravi Menon, the head of Singapore’s central bank, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, as saying they may be a problem. “Real estate agents have an obligation to look out for suspicious transactions. Do they all do that well? I don’t think so, and that’s one area we need to focus on.”

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