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Singapore fines DBS and UBS

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by October 12, 2016 General

Singapore’s central bank on Tuesday shut down a second Swiss bank in the city-state and fined banks DBS and UBS in its biggest crackdown on alleged money-laundering activities connected with Malaysian sovereign fund 1MDB.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said in a statement it had ordered Zurich-based Falcon Private Bank’s Singapore branch to cease operating because of “a persistent and severe lack of understanding” of Singapore’s money-laundering controls. It also accused Falcon’s senior management in Switzerland and Singapore of “improper conduct”.

In Zurich, the Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA), ordered Falcon to turn over 2.5 million Swiss francs ($2.56 million) in what the watchdog said were illegal profits.

It also said it has opened enforcement proceedings against two former Falcon executives, without citing them by name.

Singapore authorities arrested the Singapore branch manager of Falcon Private Bank, Jens Sturzenegger, on Oct 6, MAS said.

Falcon’s owner, Abu Dhabi’s sovereign fund International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC), is not selling the bank “at this moment in time”, Falcon Chief Executive Walter Berchtold told a media briefing.

MAS said it is working closely with Swiss financial watchdog FINMA to oversee an orderly closure of Falcon Bank in Singapore.

DBS was fined S$1 million ($728,067) and UBS S$1.3 million for breaches in Singapore’s law on prevention of money laundering.

DBS and UBS said in separate statements they would take action against staff responsible for the lapses in their money-laundering controls.

The MAS said it is also finalising its assessment of the Singapore branch of Standard Chartered Bank and would make an announcement in due course. Standard Chartered had no immediate comment.

SIX COUNTRIES PROBING 1MDB

The MAS action against Falcon followed a similar move against Swiss-based BSI Bank’s Singapore branch in May, also for failing to control money-laundering activities connected with 1MDB. That was the first time in 32 years Singapore had shut down a bank.

Singapore has so far charged three former BSI bankers and others for their roles in 1MDB-related transactions.

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

The U.S. Department of Justice filed lawsuits on July 20th seeking to seize dozens of properties ties to 1MDB, saying that over $3.5 billion was misappropriated from the fund.

The lawsuits do not name Najib but say around $700 million of misappropriated funds flowed into the accounts of “Malaysian Official 1”, who U.S. and Malaysian officials have identified as Najib.

The Wall Street Journal reported last year that investigators had traced nearly $700 million from an account at Falcon in Singapore to accounts in Malaysia they believed belonged to Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Both Najib and 1MDB have denied any wrongdoing.

In January, Malaysia’s Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali said that Saudi Arabia’s royal family gave Najib a $681 million gift, of which Apandi said about $600 million was later returned.

GLOBAL FINANCIAL CENTRES

Singapore and Zurich are two of the world’s leading wealth management centres.

FINMA said its review of Falcon had identified around $3.8 billion associated with the 1MDB Group that was transferred to accounts at Falcon between 2012 and mid-2015 and mostly moved on quickly.

“The business relationships and transactions booked in Switzerland and at Falcon’s Singapore and Hong Kong branches were unusual and involved a high level of risk for the bank both through their nature and the amounts transacted,” it said.

It said Falcon had a number of business relationships with 1MDB group companies and executed transactions amounting to around $2.5 billion via accounts of two offshore companies.

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