Ten foreign nationals from countries including China, Turkey and Cambodia were charged in court on 16 August 2023 over their suspected involvement in offences including forgery, money laundering and resisting arrest.
These foreign nationals, aged between 31 and 44, were arrested on the morning of 15 August 2023 following an islandwide raid by more than 400 officers.
Properties linked to 10 foreign nationals arrested in a S$1 billion (US$736 million) money laundering probe included seven detached bungalows in Sentosa Cove, 79 condominium units and 19 commercial spaces.
In an update on Aug 18, the police said that 105 properties have now been issued with prohibition of disposal orders in connection with the probe. The properties were valued at an estimated S$831 million.
Since Jun 28, 2023, the Urban Redevelopment Authority has required developers to conduct due-diligence checks on transactions of uncompleted residential and non-residential properties regulated under the Housing Developers (Control & Licensing) Act and Sale of Commercial Properties Act.
If developers suspect money laundering or terrorism financing activity, they are required to submit a report to the Suspicious Transaction Reporting Office of the Commercial Affairs Department. Prior to this, property agents were already required to perform due-diligence checks on potential buyers and report suspicious transactions, under the Estate Agents Act.
Ms Gazalle Mok, a partner at Rajah & Tann Singapore’s corporate real estate practice, told The Straits Times that money laundering is a process of masking illegitimate funds so that they appear to originate from legitimate sources. Ms Mok added that the effectiveness of due diligence checks is also largely dependent on the accuracy of declarations by buyers and the verification documents provided.
Apart from real estate, illicit funds are often used to buy luxury assets and invest in businesses. They can also be used in gaming machines and to buy casino chips, which are later encashed.
Professionals such as lawyers, accountants and real estate agents may “knowingly or unknowingly” help criminals to launder money through real estate by setting up and maintaining domestic or offshore trusts and companies.
They could also facilitate transactions on behalf of the criminal by receiving and transferring large amounts of cash, setting up complex loans and other credit arrangements, and facilitating the transfer of properties to third parties.