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Singapore saw fewer suspicious financial transactions reported in 2018 but more intel gathered

THERE were fewer suspicious transaction reports (STRs) filed last year for the first time in recent years, but data in the reports has resulted in more intel for Singapore's enforcement agencies.

Releasing the figures in its 2018 annual report late last month, the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) of the Singapore Police Force said there were 32,660 reports filed last year.

The figure had been rising in recent years, with 35,471 reports filed in 2017, up from 29,082 in 2014.

An STR contains financial information and is filed when there is reason to believe that the funds involved are related to crimes like money laundering or terrorism financing.

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CAD's Intelligence and Administration Group deputy director Seow Hwee Koon said the office handling STRs has reorganised its work processes to facilitate faster analysis and dissemination of financial intelligence reports to enforcement agencies here.

He said the office has also been placing greater emphasis on the quality of financial data over the quantity of reports filed.

The Suspicious Transaction Reporting Office (STRO) is the unit under the CAD that receives, analyses and disseminates financial intelligence. It also cooperates with foreign counterparts to exchange information and cooperation.

Its efforts have resulted in 111 per cent more financial intelligence reports circulated to domestic enforcement agencies, compared to the previous year, the CAD report said.

Said Commissioner of Police Hoong Wee Teck in the report: "As white-collar crimes become increasingly sophisticated and transnational, the CAD's role in protecting Singapore's reputation as a world-class financial and commercial centre has become more important than before."

Last year, the STRO also received 273 requests for assistance from foreign financial intelligence units, an increase from the previous year's 225 requests.

It also sent out 280 requests for assistance to its foreign counterparts last year, which was a slight drop from 293 the previous year.

In a case last year, the CAD pressed charges against members of a criminal syndicate that allegedly defrauded SkillsFuture Singapore of close to S$40 million worth of grants.

Four suspected key syndicate members had initially fled Singapore before investigations started, but with the help of the authorities in China, Hong Kong and Malaysia, they were brought back to Singapore to face charges.

The CAD managed to seize S$18.5 million of the illicit proceeds from the scam.

Meanwhile, banks continue to make up the main source of STRs filed, with the financial institutions making 16,314 reports, close to half of the total. This was, however, fewer compared to the 17,449 reports in 2017.

Other reports came from sectors including money changers, insurance companies and finance and trust companies, which generally all filed fewer reports as well.

One area that saw a marked increased in reports made was the casino sector, where industry players filed about 17 per cent more reports, from 5,567 in 2017 to 6,510 last year.

Last year, the CAD collaborated with the insurance industry to investigate and charge two men for engaging in a conspiracy to cheat the Central Provident Fund Board and several major life insurers of over S$129,000 by falsifying the death of the mother of one of the men.

There were also more efforts to combat money laundering by the CAD's Financial Investigation Group, which led to a 51 per cent increase in people prosecuted for money laundering.

In 2018, there were 133 people taken to task for money laundering offences, an increase from the 88 in 2017.

Said CAD's director David Chew: "As a major global financial centre, it is imperative that Singapore remains a safe and trusted place for business and finance. We have a zero-tolerance policy for any abuse of our financial system, either to commit crime or to launder the proceeds of crime."

The Transnational Commercial Crime Task Force, which comes under the Financial Investigation Group and was set up in October 2017 to specifically combat love scams, has also frozen more than 700 bank accounts and recovered at least S$1.5 million since its inception.

Last year, the CAD worked together with the Royal Malaysia Police and the Hong Kong Police Force to bust a syndicate believed to be responsible for at least 146 cases that caused S$19.45 million in losses.

THE STRAITS TIMES