Published: 12 September 2022
FATF President Mr T Raja Kumar,
INTERPOL Secretary General Mr Jürgen Stock,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. I wish to acknowledge the sad passing of Queen Elizabeth II last week, and on behalf of everyone present, express our deepest condolences to the people of the United Kingdom during this difficult time. Queen Elizabeth really has been a fixture, and a constant presence not only in the lives of the British people, but throughout the world.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
2. I am pleased to be here at this inaugural FATF-INTERPOL Roundtable Engagement, in short, which we call FIRE in short.
3. We recognise the important role that FATF plays in the global fight against money laundering, terrorism financing, and proliferation financing.
4. And we in Singapore are deeply committed to contribute to this important work. It is in that spirit that Singapore took on the FATF Presidency in July of this year.
5. We have worked closely with INTERPOL. We see it as a key global organisation, with strong capabilities to help countries work together to fight transnational crime. And really we see it as a duty of all countries, and in the interest of all countries to come together to join this fight.
6. Today, if you look at crimes - fast moving, complex. It is really not easy for countries to tackle that by themselves. No country, however large, can tackle it alone. It requires us as a global community to come together to deal with these issues.
7. So, it is really an excellent step forward for FATF, INTERPOL, and the international community to come together, combine forces, tackle issues of global concern, cyber-enabled fraud, and critically improving asset recovery.
Importance of Asset Recovery
8. It is important to target criminals, but it is equally important to target the proceeds of their crime. Otherwise they get away with it, and then the organisation remains strong and increases in strength.
9. So far, the picture is actually poor, because the global asset recovery rate, according to the UNODC’s estimate, is less than 1%. People keep more than 99% of the proceeds of their crime. So, until and unless we deal with that, crime will continue to prevail.
Challenges of Asset Recovery
10. Asset recovery is difficult, we all recognise that. Digitalisation and hyper-connectivity mean funds move across jurisdictions in a matter of seconds. Tools like cryptocurrencies make it difficult to detect, trace, and freeze funds.
11. And its difficulties are accentuated by the fact that asset recovery efforts are fragmented across the world. There is no effective international framework on freezing of assets and recovery, that corresponds to the speed with which criminal syndicates move their funds. And across many jurisdictions, there is also limited capacity even within the countries to recover assets.
How We Can Work Together
12. So, what can we do about this?
13. I think, for a start, strong, multilateral frameworks are necessary. You really need fast and seamless cross-border collaboration, joint cooperation in asset recovery.
14. And there are some great examples: Asset Recovery Interagency Networks (ARINs) like the Camden Assets Recovery Inter-Agency Network (CARIN), and the Egmont Group which provides a platform for Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs) to exchange financial intelligence.
15. The global community needs to have an effective rules-based framework with proper safeguards and protocols for extremely quick exchange of information, and for “stop-payment" mechanisms, and for enforcement action.
16. Building on multi-lateral frameworks, agencies will have to strengthen their bilateral and regional cooperation, which would be based on relationships, laws, mechanisms to prioritise asset recovery.
17. In 2021, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) conducted 16 joint operations with counterparts – stretching from Hong Kong to Malaysia, and the INTERPOL- which led to the arrest of 230 persons responsible for more than 1,000 scams.
18. The Singapore Police Force’s Commercial Affairs Department works closely with INTERPOL, and other partner Law Enforcement Agencies, as well as local banks to try and focus on recovery and return of proceeds from crime. In one such case, US$69 million of criminal proceeds was successfully recovered in a case that involved money that was transferred across 24 countries, including Singapore.
19. So this close international cooperation, if it is well done, can lead to asset recovery.
20. But all these Government efforts alone are not sufficient. The private sector has to become a key partner in the cooperation frameworks.
21. This has been our experience. In 2017, we established the AML/CFT Industry Partnership (ACIP) to really bring together the private sector and Government agencies to try and address money laundering and terrorist financing risks.
22. This structure has produced papers on what best practices are, issued advisories on new risks, and facilitated sharing of tactical information on cases. And the outcomes have generally been positive.
23. One example - in 2020, a Business Email Compromise fraud involving a network of shell companies was found. Members called SPF to identify suspicious accounts and the collaboration helped prevent more than US$20 million of losses and resulted in the seizure of US$33 million in criminal proceeds.
24. Another good example of public-private sector collaboration in our experience, is our Anti-Scam Centre which we established in 2019. What happens in the Anti-Scam Centre within our Commercial Affairs Department, which itself sits in a building with the CID – we have bank officers from the major banks, representatives sitting there together with our officers in real time and focusing on movement and flow of funds. And when they see something suspicious, the bank officer from X Bank can immediately call back his bank and say, this needs to be stopped. It creates a system and a structure which is workable immediately. And this system has successfully frozen more than 32,000 bank accounts and recovered more than S$243 million between June 2019 and June 2022. Three years. It has been very successful because when they see an account that is suspicious, they just stop it. Of course, in the course of it, some genuine accounts might also be blocked. That is the risk that one takes, but we find that it stops suspicious accounts, it stops the flow of money, it helps us recover funds much faster. And really that sort of practical cooperation needs to be extended across jurisdictions.
25. Multilateral platforms like FIRE, are important for the exchange of ideas, and best practices, and to facilitate discussion on practical cooperation mechanisms and really lead to better outcomes in the recovery of assets.
26. This is important work - it can make a big impact in the fight against transnational crime.
27. I wish everyone a fruitful conference. Thank you.