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MAS conducting probe; issues stern warning against money laundering, financing of terrorism

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Singapore's central bank and financial regulatory authority said it takes a serious view of and will take firm action against any financial institution or individual found to have breached its requirements relating to anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism.

THE Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) is firmly committed to keeping the country's financial centre clean and safeguarded from illicit activities.

In a statement to the press on Monday evening, Singapore's central bank and financial regulatory authority said it takes a serious view of and will take firm action against any financial institution or individual found to have breached its requirements relating to anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT).

International news agency Bloomberg had reported four days ago that regulators in Europe and Asia are investigating Standard Chartered (StanChart) over the role its staff may have played in transferring US$1.4 billion of private bank client assets from Guernsey to Singapore before new tax transparency rules were introduced.

The report stated that the assets, held in its Guernsey trust unit for mainly Indonesian clients, some of whom had links to the military, were moved in late 2015 before the Channel Island adopted the Common Reporting Standard, a global framework for the exchange of tax data, at the start of 2016.

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StanChart had shuttered its operations on the island last year.

The bank's processes and the way the transfers were handled are being examined, but regulators have not suggested that bank employees colluded with clients to evade tax, the report said.

According to Bloomberg, people with knowledge of the probes said that both MAS and Guernsey's Financial Services Commission are investigating the chain of events.

MAS, in its statement on Monday, said: "As our supervisory probe is still ongoing, we are unable to provide more information at this juncture."

MAS said it has put in place "a robust AML/CFT regime to detect and deter illicit activities in our financial sector" and the framework and supervision were deemed by the Financial Action Task Force to be robust in its 2016 assessment.

MAS said the authority has continued to build on these strengths by "intensifying its supervision of financial institutions that pose higher money laundering and terrorism financing risks".

"We have not hesitated to take firm action against financial institutions with control deficiencies, and have imposed financial penalties and prohibition orders on culpable individuals where there are serious lapses," it said.

"Where egregious breaches of our laws are detected, MAS has worked with our law enforcement agencies to pursue criminal prosecutions."

Singapore will not tolerate the abuse of its financial system as a refuge or conduit for tax-illicit funds.

It has, in 2013, designated tax crimes as money laundering predicate offences and directed financial institutions to undertake a critical review of their assets to ensure their compliance with the revised laws.

A year later, Singapore further committed to implementing the Automatic Exchange of Financial Account Information under the Common Reporting Standard, which is an internationally agreed standard aimed at strengthening global tax transparency.