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Singapore fines Credit Suisse, UOB over 1MDB-linked dealings, wraps up review

business Updated: May 30, 2017 14:47 IST
Reuters, Singapore
The Credit Suisse logo is seen at the headquarters in downtown Milan, Italy.
The Credit Suisse logo is seen at the headquarters in downtown Milan, Italy.(Reuters photo)

Singapore’s central bank has fined Credit Suisse and United Overseas Bank (UOB) a total of S$1.6 million ($1.2 million) for breaching anti-money laundering rules in transactions related to Malaysia’s scandal-ridden state fund 1MDB.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said on Tuesday it had fined UOB S$900,000 and Credit Suisse S$700,000 as it wrapped up its two-year probe into banks involved in 1MDB-related transactions, which revealed several breaches of anti-money laundering (AML) requirements and control lapses.

“These include weaknesses in conducting due diligence on customers and inadequate scrutiny of customers’ transactions and activities,” it said in a statement, adding it did not, however, detect pervasive control weaknesses at UOB and Credit Suisse.

The fines are smaller than those the authority has already imposed on other banks as part of its biggest money-laundering investigation. It has now imposed penalties of S$29.1 million on eight banks.

Once a pet project of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who chaired its advisory board, 1MDB is the subject of money-laundering investigations in at least six countries including Switzerland, Singapore and the United States.

Najib has denied any wrongdoing.

“While the fines imposed on UOB and Credit Suisse may appear low relative to the amounts that we see imposed by U.S. and UK regulators, they are substantive by Singapore standards,” said Nizam Ismail, partner at RHTLaw Taylor Wessing LLP, where he advises clients on financial services regulation.

“Unfortunately, the presence of financial crimes is a reality and occupational hazard of major international financial centres. But when they are detected, the enforcement is robust and extensive - which is what MAS has done.”

Last year, MAS fined DBS, UBS, Standard Chartered and private bank Coutts for breaches of Singapore’s anti-money laundering laws in connection to 1MDB transactions.

Separately, Swiss financial watchdog FINMA said on Tuesday it had conducted “extensive investigations” into Credit Suisse’s dealings surrounding 1MDB, resulting in a written reprimand for Switzerland’s second-biggest bank.

As part of a two-year review into 1MDB-related transactions, Singapore has shut down the local units of BSI Bank and Falcon Bank due to failures of money laundering controls and improper conduct by senior management, frozen millions of dollars in bank accounts and charged several private bankers.

“The price for keeping our financial centre clean as it grows in size and inter-connectedness is unstinting vigilance,” said Ravi Menon, managing director of the central bank.

“MAS has enhanced its AML surveillance and taken unprecedented enforcement actions against errant institutions and individuals,” he said.

The extensive review uncovered a complex web of transactions involving shell companies and individuals operating in multiple jurisdictions, including the United States, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Luxembourg and Malaysia.

“Credit Suisse takes a very serious view of our obligations in the prevention of money laundering and is firmly committed to upholding the high standards of the Singapore financial center,” the bank said in a statement.

UOB, the smallest of Singapore’s three listed banks, also said it had accepted the findings by MAS.

“We have instituted measures to address the areas of concern, including enhancing our training programme to raise risk and control awareness among our staff,” it said.

First Published: May 30, 2017 14:44 IST