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Ex-BSI banker Yvonne Seah gets 2 weeks' jail, S$10,000 fine

She made an error of judgement and a mistake while doing her job: defence lawyer

Yvonne Seah.jpg
Former BSI senior private banker Yvonne Seah Yew Foong was sentenced to two weeks' jail and fined S$10,000 by the Singapore State Court on Friday.

Singapore

FORMER BSI senior private banker Yvonne Seah Yew Foong was sentenced to two weeks' jail and fined S$10,000 by the Singapore State Court on Friday.

Seah, 45 and married with two children, appeared calm and collected in court - she even managed a faint smile at the media seated in the front row.

Prosecutors say that she had earned S$4.1 million from transactions involving her "most important client", Malaysian tycoon Low Taek Jho. Her direct boss, Yak Yew Chee, was the first to be convicted here last month in Singapore's massive probe into the illicit fund flows of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

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Her lawyer, Peter Cuthbert Low, said outside the court shortly after sentencing: "My client is very thankful that all is over and that she can finally move on after suffering greatly for over one year since the investigation started. She believes that she is basically a good and honest person who made an error of judgement and a mistake while doing her job."

Seah had earlier pleaded guilty to three charges - four other charges were stood down - two of which involved abetment of forgery of reference letters allegedly done at the behest of Mr Low and Yak who is serving an 18-week jail term following a guilty plea last month for similar offences. He was fined S$24,000.

The third charge was in relation to failure to disclose suspicious transactions allegedly involving Mr Low - the man better known as Jho Low who is at the centre of Malaysia's financial scandal and just last month was referred to by the Commercial Affairs Department as one of three "persons of interest" in the most complex money laundering probe here.

Deputy public prosecutor Nathaniel Khng submitted that Seah's dishonesty has negatively impacted Singapore's standing as a financial hub and that "such conduct must be unequivocally stamped out and deterred".

He said that Seah, like Yak, had benefitted significantly from transactions involving Mr Low, hence she had a personal interest in committing the offences. Between 2010 and 2015, he said that Seah earned S$4.1 million from BSI - S$1.85 million in salary and S$2.25 million in bonuses.

Mr Peter Low submitted that on a per year basis, this was not necessarily significant in light of industry practice; whereas "BSI's star performer" Yak's bonus was "out of the world" and "extraordinary". According to earlier court papers, Yak earned S$27 million from 2011 and 2015 in salary and bonuses from the bank.

Seah's counsel also said that imprisonment was not necessary as his client has suffered "significant anguish and emotional trauma" and depression since the CAD began its investigations in October 2015 and according to a doctor at Raffles Hospital whom she consulted, was suffering from "marked exacerbation of anxiety and panic attack" after a "robust interrogation session" by CAD officers in mid-March this year.

Together with Yak, Seah was also the relationship manager to Mr Low's father, Low Hock Peng, and Tan Kim Loong, a close associate and proxy for many of Mr Low's financial arrangements.

The charge against Seah, as in Yak's case, relate to the transfer of US$153 million from a Good Star account at Coutts Zurich to a BSI Singapore account of Abu Dhabi-Kuwait-Malaysia Investment Corporation (ADKMIC) in November 2012. Mr Low was the beneficial owner of both accounts. Within days, these funds would flow to Mr Low's father and back to him before it was transferred out of BSI, which led a BSI compliance officer to describe the movements as "nebulous" and "not acceptable", according to court papers.

Some US$110 million in funds traceable to Good Star flowed back out of Singapore to Selune Ltd, an account at Rothschild Bank Zurich and according to prosecutors, was carefully layered through multiple bank accounts spread across different banks over the course of a few days.

Under the forgery charges, prosecutors said that Seah had co-signed and endorsed two reference letters with Yak - one to BNP Paribas and the other to Swiss financial advisory firm Kendris Ltd - which was requested by Mr Low to confirm that the Low family was a "client of good standing" and that the family's net worth stood at US$1.63 billion although she knew that the letters were unauthorised by BSI.

Meanwhile, the case involving another former BSI banker, Yeo Jiawei, the man who prosecutors say played a central role in the mammoth money laundering case that spans several jurisdictions, is fixed for a verdict on Dec 21 in relation to four charges of obstructing the course of justice in the 1MDB probe.

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