YAK Yew Chee, the senior private banker of Swiss bank BSI whose S$9.7 million in 12 bank accounts were frozen by Singapore's Commercial Affairs Department last September, has said he "verily" believed that the seizure was due to the ongoing investigations into one of his clients, Malaysian tycoon Jho Low. This and other pieces of information came to light in Mr Yak's affidavit, filed last November in relation to a criminal motion to unfreeze his accounts, a move he said he made so that he would be able to pay for his legal and tax expenses.
At the Singapore High Court on Friday, the motion was withdrawn at the request of his lawyer, Senior Counsel Roderick Martin of Martin & Partners.
The withdrawal followed deputy public prosecutor Tan Kiat Pheng's confirmation that Mr Yak, 58, could remit S$1.76 million to Singapore to settle his tax and legal matters, and that these funds would not be frozen.
The judge granted Mr Yak's request to withdraw the application at what was the first legal case linked to the high-profile 1MDB scandal, which is also being scrutinised by the authorities in Switzerland, US and Hong Kong.
Documents reproduced in court papers revealed that the Singapore branch of the Swiss wealth manager BSI had launched an inquiry into several accounts managed by Mr Yak after he returned last October from four months of unpaid leave, much of that spent in Beijing.
Mr Yak joined the bank in 2009 and remains a bank employee.
His clients included Penang-born Mr Low (who has been linked to the scandal surrounding 1MDB), 1MDB itself and one of its units, Brazen Sky. The latter is a wholly-owned entity set up in the British Virgin Islands, and which had invested US$2.3 billion in the controversial Cayman Islands funds.
Mr Yak's clients also included Aabar Investments PJS and affiliates, said the court papers.
In a declaration he made to the bank just before he went on leave, Mr Yak stated that he had not engaged in unlawful conduct in relation to these accounts.
His lawyer Mr Martin told The Business Times: "My client offered to write a statutory declaration because he is confident that he didn't do anything wrong... It is with the same confidence that he gave us instructions to apply for the release of his funds."
BSI's inquiry into the matter is ongoing and a well-placed source says three other executives who were involved in managing these accounts have left the bank.
The criminal motion heard in court on Friday packed the courtroom. Given that Mr Yak's name is the first to emerge in the confidential, high-profile criminal probe by Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) and the Monetary Authority of Singapore into 1MDB for possible money laundering offences, the courtroom was full of reporters, who outnumbered lawyers and other observers. Mr Yak, who has surrendered his passport to assist in the investigations, was not present.
The case also provided a glimpse - and then some - into the lucrative package earned by the banker, whose job was to secure high-net-worth customers. His monthly salary exceeded S$80,000; his salary and bonuses for the last four years came to an eye-popping S$27 million, and last year alone, he drew S$6.4 million in salary and bonuses.
The public prosecutor, in his written submission, posited that Mr Yak's application should be dismissed as the banker had remitted close to S$8 million to his overseas bank accounts since 2012. A bulk of this, S$5.7 million, was "squirrelled out" during BSI's investigations into his conduct.
Moreover, CAD's investigations have revealed that Mr Yak has at least 10 bank accounts in Singapore, which are not frozen, and other accounts in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Mr Yak, on his part, said in his affidavit that he was entitled to diversify his funds into higher-yield investments with Julius Baer. "What is so criminal or suspicious about making overseas investments that have higher returns," he asked.
He also said he required the release of the funds to pay legal fees and to continue to have his solicitors on retainer, given the "complex criminal investigations against me takes place against an international background".
He described the probe as a criminal matter concerning "multiple, complex issues of law", various high-net-worth individuals ("public personalities, viz, politicians") and numerous cross-border transactions involving large sums of money via intermediary funds.
Mr Yak also noted that he has not been charged for any offence yet.