Billions in shady money moved through Singapore’s banks: report

Interactive map of data from “FinCEN Leaks”. Image: BuzzFeed/ICIJ
Interactive map of data from “FinCEN Leaks”. Image: BuzzFeed/ICIJ

Update: FinCEN files: It’s ‘difficult’ to halt dubious transactions, Singapore bank says

Billions of dollars worth of suspicious transactions moved through Singapore between 2007 and 2017, according to leaked data from a U.S. financial crimes agency and reported by BuzzFeed.

Nearly US$3 billion was transferred into Singapore banks and another US$1.5 billion back out, according to data from the U.S. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which is largely based on banking industry reports of suspicious activity. Altogether, it shows over US$2 trillion moved around the world through financial institutions including major banks, according to the Buzzfeed reporters who scoured through the documents along with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. 

The data “reveals for the first time how the giants of Western banking move trillions of dollars in suspicious transactions, enriching themselves and their shareholders while facilitating the work of terrorists, kleptocrats, and drug kingpins,” Buzzfeed reported.

A fraction of those transactions, just over US$35 billion, was mapped onto an interactive map.

The numbers for Singapore were based on a sample of the 1,781 transactions the consortium found to have “sufficient details about both the originator and beneficiary banks.”

Singapore’s slice of the FinCEN data assembled by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Graphic: ICIJ
Singapore’s slice of the FinCEN data assembled by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Graphic: ICIJ

Named banks included CIMB, which appeared in at least 294 transactions, and DBS, which appeared in at least 461 transactions. Singaporean banks OCBC and UOB were also on the list. Neither has responded to Coconuts Singapore’s requests for comment. 

According to the data, money was moved between Singapore, the United States, and 46 other countries. On Feb. 5, 2014, for example, US$40 million was moved from Swiss bank BSI to DBS Bank Ltd. On Dec. 4, 2015, about US$13 million was transferred from OCBC to Credit Suisse. From March to April 2016, more than US$12 million was moved from DBS to UOB via five transactions. 

The U.S. government documents, which add up to 22,000 pages, were released amid investigations into matters including the 2016 presidential election. Buzzfeed found they included more than 2,000 suspicious activity reports in its report, which it said links the world’s largest financial institutions to international terrorism, human trafficking and drug cartels.

It said the documents show FinCEN is aware of the level of crime enabled by the global banking system but does nothing to rein it in. 

The activity reports filed to the agency come from financial institutions when they suspect that a transaction may be linked to money laundering or other illegal activities. It says the reports may support further investigation but do not serve as evidence of crime. 

The agency, which in past years has fined the Trump Organization millions of dollars for money-laundering violations, said earlier this month the leak amounted to a crime and threat to U.S. national security.

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