DPM Teo Chee Hean's speech at the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA) Financial Forensic Conference delivered at 9am on Thursday, 28 September 2017
Dr Gerard Ee,
President, Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA),
Mr Wong Hong Kuan,
Director, Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB),
Mr David Chew,
Director, Commercial Affairs Department (CAD),
Mr Allen Ng,
Chief Forensic Accountant, Independent Commission Against Corruption,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Your presence today shows the strong commitment of our accounting and financial professions to strengthen the integrity and resilience of our financial and business sector as a trusted hub. Singapore is committed to maintain a resilient system with high integrity for our financial institutions and the financial sector. Such a system with resilience and integrity depends on a wider community approach and attitude towards eliminating corruption and white-collar crimes. Without this, professionals like yourselves would have a much more difficult environment to operate in.
Singapore is a cohesive multi-racial and multi-religious society. We are connected and integrated with the global community, and are open to free trade, investments, and the flow of skilled professionals. We provide regulatory certainty, strong intellectual property protection, good arbitration facilities and the rule of law, which have helped global financial institutions and companies rely on Singapore as a base from which to expand their businesses here in Singapore and beyond our shores.
We have been internationally recognised as one of the top five global financial centres. This is due to the strong foundations laid down by generations of professionals like yourselves, with policymakers working hand in hand with industry. You have also worked with agencies such as the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) to strengthen governance frameworks for your clients, raise corporate awareness of emerging issues which impact on the development of the sector, and share best practices. MAS and CPIB are not just regulators, but are also co-developers of standards of integrity and propriety that are required of a good and well-functioning sector.
At the international level, we have worked actively with our international counterparts to shape the global financial system after the Financial Crisis in 2009. We have implemented new international standards on tax transparency to combat cross-border tax evasion. For instance, we have signed all the three multilateral agreements on exchange of information for tax purposes, enhancing our tax co-operation with a network of jurisdictions. The Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes, an international body endorsed by the G20 to ensure effective implementation of the exchange of information, has given us good ratings.
The Government and the private sector must work together to keep apace of dynamic risks and challenges, and implement timely measures to maintain the repute of our financial and business hub - to make sure that we are a trusted hub, and that any illegal activities are ferreted out. There are two key risks that all financial centres, including Singapore, need to work on: money laundering activities that support transnational crime and the financing of terrorism. These two risks go beyond just looking at the numbers. They have very serious impact on the real, physical world and the communities we live in. Allow me to elaborate.
Tackling Money Laundering and Transnational Crime
First, we must tackle money laundering which may arise from transnational crime. Criminals exploit the vulnerabilities and enforcement gaps to launder and access funds from their illicit activities, and to mask their illegal gains.
Cybercrime is a good example of a transnational crime where the proceeds could be laundered through financial systems globally. Cybercrime is the fastest-growing type of crime in Singapore whereas we have been able to control other types of crimes in the physical world much more effectively. This includes fraud affecting individuals, to massive penetration of systems. The WannaCry ransomware affected computer networks in over 150 countries and more than 200,000 people. This affected the physical world as well because it was not just a case of locking someone out of his data, but it affected medical records, emergency services and hospitals, and degraded the ability of people who were in need of medical care and medical attention. It had real physical consequences. The NotPetya ransomware had spread rapidly across many countries and affected logistics, telecommunications and power companies, and financial institutions worldwide.
The money laundering risks have grown in complexity and scale in recent years. We have detected and dealt with a number of large-scale money laundering cases, but criminals will continue to look for new ways to mask the beneficial owners and illicit source of their funds.
We must therefore continue to strengthen our systems against transnational crime and money laundering. In 2016, the inter-governmental Financial Action Task Force or FATF in short, re-affirmed that our national coordination to fight Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing is comprehensive. The FATF also recognised that Singapore has a strong legal and institutional framework to combat money laundering. Criminal groups are exploiting technology to commit crimes. We will increasingly have to use technology and data analytics to detect and pursue transnational crime and money laundering, strengthen our regulatory framework enforcement approach, and collaborate more closely with our international counterparts.
For instance, we strengthened the Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act in June this year to address the increasing scale, complexity and transnational nature of cybercrime. Our pre-existing laws were insufficient. We have now made it an offence to deal in hacked personal information for illegitimate purposes, or to obtain hacking tools with the intention to use these to commit a computer offence. Given its transnational nature, Singapore has also actively cooperated with other countries to fight cybercrime. For example, we conducted a joint operation with INTERPOL, targeting cybercrime across the ASEAN region, using the Digital Crime Centre at the Interpol Global Complex for Innovation based in Singapore. INTERPOL has conducted a number of cybercrime operations from the centre, in collaboration with other international centres around the world. For example, investigators identified and enabled the shutting down of nearly 9,000 Command-and-Control servers world-wide found to be spreading malware, and hundreds of compromised websites, which included government portals. This was possible through concerted efforts among INTERPOL, EUROPOL and several other jurisdictions.
Increased Risk from Terrorism and Terrorism-Financing
Second, our authorities will continue to work closely with our professionals and institutions in the private sector to be vigilant against individuals who try to finance terrorism-related activities. Terrorist networks operate globally and coordinate their activities across territorial borders. Some terrorist attacks have been financed by only small amounts from several hundred to several thousand dollars.
We have detected and taken early action against individuals for their involvement in terrorism-related activities including financing terrorism. Since 2015, 11 Singaporeans have been detained and six were issued with Restriction Orders, more than in the previous seven years. We have also deported foreigners working here found to be radicalised, and convicted six others under the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act.
In conjunction with our anti-money laundering efforts, we have strengthened mechanisms to act against terrorism financing. Our financial institutions are working closely with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to update one another on financing typologies gleaned from local and foreign cases. Some experience is required to know how they operate and what to look for in order to find their footprints. In May this year, MAS and the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) launched the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism Industry Partnership, or ACIP. ACIP brings key industry players together with relevant public sector representatives to enhance our collectively ability to identify, assess and mitigate the money laundering and terrorism-financing risks we face.
Our efforts to tackle terrorism financing are an integral part of our overall strategy to deal with the terrorist threat. Our security agencies have been working hard to detect, prevent and deal with potential attacks. I launched the SGSecure for Workplaces two days ago and we will work with the business community to prepare our workforce and workplaces so that contingency plans can kick in should an incident occur. These are not just physical incidents such as bombs or gun attacks against our companies and businesses, but the likelihood of major cyber-attacks has increased. In fact, several have already taken place. Your preparations will be critical for business continuity and can help you and your clients save lives in an emergency.
Over the years, we have introduced important institutions, laws and regulations to help encourage integration, prevent conflict, assure all communities especially our minority communities, and enlarge our common space, in order to unite all our communities in a common purpose. This creates a larger, secured and harmonious environment in which all of us operate.
The harmony and stability that Singapore enjoys, and its openness to all who come here to carry out their legitimate business, is also a key competitive advantage.
Just as financial rules and regulations help to provide stability, and build resilience and trust in the financial system, our guide-ropes and guardrails for community-building help to provide stability, resilience and trust in our multi-racial and multi-religious society.
This is an important subject that you are undertaking. It is a new field and without the ability to keep up, we might be out-flanked. The best of intentions cannot be fulfilled unless we have the tools and the people to carry it out and execute them. I wanted to underscore Singapore’s commitment to maintaining a financial and business sector with high resilience and high integrity because this is a key competitive advantage to us. The work that we do, each of us, in our own sector, contributes not only to the sector that we are in, but depends on and contributes to the wider ethos of resilience, integrity, harmony and stability of the country that we operate in
The accounting and financial professions can help protect businesses against money laundering and terrorism-financing. Ultimately any system of laws, rules and regulations comes down to people – people with integrity who are alert, understand the threats and risks, and are pro-active in dealing with them. Together, we can ensure that Singapore strengthens our resilience as a trusted business and financial centre. I wish you all an interesting and productive conference. I wish you all the very best, as we all depend on you to get the work done. Thank you.
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