White-collar crime in Singapore

Are there any emerging trends or issues in white-collar crime law in Singapore that UK companies should be aware of?

Two unprecedented criminal cases have recently been in the spotlight, making headlines both locally and globally.

In August 2023, ten individuals were charged for their suspected participation in Singapore’s largest money laundering case involving assets totalling more than SGD$3bn. The alleged enterprise involves the laundering of criminal proceeds from overseas organised crime activities, including illegal online gambling and unlicensed moneylending. There are ongoing probes by various sectoral regulators, including government agencies overseeing corporate service providers, real estate agents and financial institutions. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (‘MAS’) is also conducting detailed supervisory reviews and inspections of the financial institutions with a major nexus to this case.

The case has prompted a review of Singapore’s anti-money laundering and compliance regime. For instance, the MAS is reviewing its internal tax incentive administrative processes; as well as strengthening the surveillance on single family offices. The Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority is also considering placing greater restrictions on nominee directorships, which will be reviewed by Parliament in early 2024.

In the anti-bribery sphere, the arrest of the former Minister for Transport of Singapore for alleged corruption offences dominated headlines when news first broke in July 2023. Criminal proceedings were commenced against him in January 2024. What is noteworthy is many of the charges brought against him are framed under section 165 of the Penal Code 1871 (‘PC’), rather than under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1960 (‘PCA’). The case illustrates the strict policy against government officials accepting gifts, especially when the government official may be placed in a potential position of conflict of interest. The offence under section 165 of the PC does not require the prosecution to prove that the government official in question has given or done anything in return.

What are the key statutes and regulations governing white-collar crime in Singapore?

The key statutes and regulations are:

  1. Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act 1992 (‘CDSA’), which sets out Singapore’s anti-money laundering framework.
  2. Penal Code 1871, which is Singapore’s primary criminal law statute criminalising various types of fraudulent conduct including forgery, cheating and criminal breach of trust.
  3. Prevention of Corruption Act 1960, which sets out Singapore’s anti-corruption framework.
  4. Securities and Futures Act 2001 (‘SFA’). Market misconduct offences such as insider trading and market abuse are found within this Act.

How does Singapore’s legal framework for white-collar crime differ from that of the UK?

Singapore’s legal and enforcement framework for white-collar crime is largely similar to that of the UK.

However, the ability to bring private prosecutions for white-collar crime differs between the UK and Singapore. While there is a rising trend of private prosecutions for fraud in the UK, private prosecutions are largely limited in scope in Singapore. In Singapore, prosecutions for white-collar crime remain firmly within the domain of the Public Prosecutor.

What are the specific provisions of Singapore’s anti-corruption laws, and how are they enforced?

The primary statute dealing with anti-corruption in Singapore is the Prevention of Corruption Act 1960, with the main offence-creating provisions found in sections 5 and 6. In gist, section 5 of the PCA criminalises the giving or receiving of a bribe, while section 6 of the PCA criminalises situations where an agent receives bribes for an act or forbearance in relation to their principal’s affairs.

Enforcement of these offences in Singapore is strict given Singapore’s firm stance against corruption. The central inquiry is whether the transaction under scrutiny is motivated by a corrupt intent, regardless of the value of the transaction. The main enforcement agency investigating corruption related offences is the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, which reports directly to the Prime Minister’s Office.

How does Singapore collaborate with international authorities, including the UK, in addressing cross-border white-collar crime?

Cross-border collaboration with foreign authorities is enshrined in multiple laws in Singapore, chief of which would be the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 2000 (‘MACMA’) and the Extradition Act 1968 (‘EA’). The MACMA provides for mutual assistance between Singapore and foreign countries, such as the UK, in relation to criminal matters, including assistance in locating individuals, obtaining evidence, enforcement of confiscation orders and service of process. The EA allows for extradition of individuals with certain countries, including the UK.

A recent example of Singapore’s collaboration with the UK’s law enforcement agencies is the case involving former Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone. The MAS, Singapore Police Force and Attorney-General’s Chambers had shared relevant information with their UK counterparts, which helped the latter develop their case against the British tycoon.

What are the key risks associated with white-collar crime in the Singaporean business environment?

Some of the key risks are:

  1. Anti-money laundering risks and reporting obligations. Singapore, being a significant transnational financial hub, handles businesses that deal with the inflow and outflow of money from various parts of the world. This global financial activity brings with it certain inherent risks, one of which is the risk of money laundering. As such, there are strict reporting requirements for businesses to adhere to if they suspect any property they are dealing with may be connected to criminal activity.
  2. Corruption in business transactions. Singapore, despite its well-earned reputation as one of the least corrupt nations globally, is not entirely immune to this problem. Corruption can manifest in various forms, and one potential risk that businesses may encounter in the country is the offering or solicitation of bribes. This is a significant concern, especially for foreign entities looking to establish or expand their operations in Singapore. Despite the robust measures in place to combat corruption, there is always a residual risk that needs to be considered and managed carefully.
  3. Operational disruptions from investigations. When conducting business operations in Singapore, it is of utmost importance that a company exercises careful judgement in its dealings. This is particularly relevant in the context of potential involvement in white-collar crime. If a company becomes implicated in such activities and consequently becomes the target of an investigation, the operational disruptions can be significant. Such operational disruptions include raids and the potential seizure of bank accounts, electronic data and/or documents by enforcement agencies.