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Unveiling the Next Billion Dollar Whale

Unveiling the next billion dollar whale

In an extraordinary turn of events, law enforcement authorities have seized a staggering $1.8 billion ( as of 13th Sep 2023 ) in assets in a single sweep. Singapore recently made headlines by apprehending ten individuals of Chinese descent while simultaneously launching investigations into over twenty others. The audacity and scale of these operations are nothing short of breathtaking. A cursory internet search reveals extensive media coverage of this case, featuring opulent mansions, luxury automobiles, designer fashion, exquisite timepieces, and priceless artworks splashed across various news outlets. Putting on my "detective" hat, I've meticulously scrutinised multiple news articles in the quest to identify intriguing patterns. I've assembled relationship maps of the ten arrested individuals, drawing from the commendable journalism of Singapore's mainstream media over the past few weeks ( citations include The Straits Times, The Business Times, and Channel News Asia ).

Key Insight 1: Concealed Nationalities

While all ten arrested individuals seem to share Chinese origins, it's noteworthy that eight of them possess nationalities from Cambodia, Cyprus, Türkiye, and Vanuatu. This strategic choice may not be surprising, potentially aimed at evading scrutiny from Chinese authorities due to their activities outside China.

The Billion Dollar Money Laundering case Relationship Map

It's common knowledge that some of these jurisdictions offer citizenship through investment programs, making it accessible to those with substantial financial resources. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has flagged Türkiye as a jurisdiction with significant deficiencies in its anti-money laundering (AML) regulations, warranting increased oversight. Earlier this year, Cambodia was removed from the FATF grey list, ostensibly due to improved standards. However, examining the nature of operation of this case raises some questions about the extent of Cambodia's actual progress. Whenever customers of a particular origin, ethnicity, or name hold a passport that doesn't naturally align with their profile, it should raise red flags.

Key Insight 2: Diversified Syndicate Members

The relationship map classifies the ten arrested individuals into two broad categories. The first group of five individuals, situated in the upper half of the map, operated actively in Singapore, with connections to at least 24 Singapore-incorporated entities. Some of these individuals have reportedly resided in Singapore for several years.

The Billion Dollar Money Laundering case Relationship Map

This first group seems to consist of individuals with a relatively "clean" public profile. They operate in Singapore to (1) buy and sell luxury items in their names and those of their spouses and family members, and (2) oversee Singapore legal entities to run seemingly legitimate businesses. Numerous controlled entities, both local and foreign, within the syndicate may be engaged in fictitious transactions and potentially fraudulent dealings with other businesses and financial institutions in Singapore and abroad, using these vehicles.

The Billion Dollar Money Laundering case Relationship Map

The remaining five individuals, positioned in the lower half of the map, appear to have stronger ties to various Chinese and Cambodia scams, illegal gambling and human trafficking syndicates targeted in past crackdowns by relevant authorities. These individuals have known associations with several Singapore entities, as well as other Cambodian entities and potentially several entities setup in Panama, New Zealand, and even the United States.

Given the scale and complexity of their operations, it's likely that these individuals occupy high-ranking positions within the syndicate but may not be the kingpins themselves.

Key Insight 3: Singapore as a Central Hub

The fact that all ten were arrested in Singapore likely isn't coincidental. Singapore might be serving as a hub or launching pad for operations spanning other Southeast Asian countries. It's unsurprising that Singaporean law enforcement has been scrutinizing several individuals within the country, with arrest warrants issued for several others. Many individuals labelled as "Other Associates" in the black boxes may have lived or still reside in Singapore, probably under close law enforcement surveillance. Is this the last such case we'll see in Singapore? Highly unlikely. We might witness similar, if not more sophisticated, cases in the future. The appeal of channelling illicit funds through a reputable location like Singapore may make the risk of detection and prosecution seem worthwhile. Singapore has earned the moniker of the "playground for the wealthy," attracting both virtuous and unscrupulous individuals. While preventive and detective measures can be implemented to keep undesirable elements at bay, eradicating them entirely, especially if they're deeply embedded, remains an insurmountable challenge but one we should all strive towards.

Key Insight 4: The Ultimate Stage of Money Laundering - Integration

A close examination of the 37 Singapore-incorporated companies listed in the relationship map reveals a diverse array of businesses, including those in the F&B sector, catering, investment holding, technology, e-commerce, cyber risk, family offices, and cloud services.

This suggests that the elaborate money laundering process employed by this syndicate has likely reached the integration phase. In my assessment, this case goes beyond the typical scams or fraudulent schemes that often stall at the initial placement stage of money laundering.

It remains uncertain whether any of this money found its way into funding startups in Singapore through investment holding entities, family offices, or technology companies established by the syndicate.

Key Insight 5: Designated Non-Financial Businesses and Professionals (DNFBPs)

While money laundering is typically associated with banks and financial services, this case underscores that the layering and integration phases of money laundering, involving both small and high-value items, often extend beyond the financial sector. The professional services sector remains a prime target for money launderers, and unsuspecting corporate service providers, as well as nominee directorships, present vulnerabilities. Efforts by the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) since 2015, along with the forthcoming Corporate Service Providers (CSP) Bill, aim to address some of these gaps but may not eliminate the risk entirely. Although the number of Suspicious Transaction Reports (STRs) from the CSP sector has increased over the years, it still pales in comparison to the financial sector's reporting. Additionally, other DNFBP sectors, such as real estate and precious stones and metal dealers, have come under scrutiny due to this case. This heightened attention should encourage participants to take anti-money laundering measures more seriously, exemplified by the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) issuance of new AML requirements for all property developers in June 2023. Car dealers, luxury item dealers (excluding precious stones and metals), and art dealers should also fall within the scope of global anti-money laundering measures.

Key Insight 6: Maintaining Vigilance

It's often easier to identify gaps and issues after the damage is done. Beyond the more conspicuous signs, such as the acquisition of luxury properties and cars, the more elusive and challenging-to-detect activities involve seemingly legitimate businesses like food catering, technology firms, and e-commerce ventures established by the syndicate. Tracing activities from these entities to others within and outside their network may prove to be an arduous and fruitless endeavour for regulated entities during due diligence process, as the syndicate might have employed multiple providers to elude detection. Vigilance remains the cornerstone of defence when dealing with such situations. Striking the right balance between trust and scrutiny is paramount. Calls for greater public and private information sharing are imperative. The establishment of the Collaborative Sharing of Money

Laundering/Terrorism Financing Information and Cases (COSMIC) digital platform, designed for financial institutions in Singapore to share information on suspicious customers or transactions, represents a crucial step. The platform will be jointly developed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and six major commercial banks. I believe this is a very good initiative but the speed of implementation and involvement of other non-bank institutions into COSMIC to broaden collaboration beyond the banking sector is essential as money launderers often explore alternative avenues to achieve their objectives.

Key Insight 7: Regular Screening

Implementing regular customer screening is one of the most critical customer due diligence controls. While most of these individuals would pass the standard screening process before their names surface in the media, cross-referencing source of wealth and source of funds information with subsequent transactions may raise pertinent questions. Regulated businesses should consider conducting a thorough review of their customer profiles against the list of names highlighted in various news articles. While limited information may be available about these profiles aside from their names, exercising vigilance and going the extra mile is a prudent approach.

Key Insight 8: Harnessing RegTech

RegTech solutions are increasingly available and should be embraced. While their use may not have identified each of the ten arrested individuals before their apprehension, they serve as robust preventive and detective tools. This extends beyond employing Politically Exposed Person (PEP) and sanctions screening tools; it entails deploying comprehensive risk assessment platforms with advanced data analytics capabilities. It's crucial to understand that money launderers will go to great lengths to plan, recruit, and execute their schemes, utilizing every conceivable avenue to achieve their goals. Assuming that they are unsophisticated criminals is a naive perspective. As money launderers increasingly leverage technology, regulated businesses must view RegTech as an essential, not optional, tool.

Final Thoughts

In this intricate web of intrigue and wealth, the seizure of around 1.8 billion dollars(as of in assets represents a watershed moment in the ongoing battle against financial crime. Singapore's remarkable feat of arresting ten individuals and launching investigations into many more serves as a stark reminder of the audacity of those who seek to launder illicit funds. As we navigate the labyrinthine world of international finance, it becomes evident that money laundering transcends borders, industries, and conventional notions of criminality. The message that Singapore law enforcers have sent is that they will not hesitate to take tough actions if any illegal activities are uncovered.

The revelations from this case underscore the critical importance of vigilance, collaboration, and advanced technologies in combating these complex criminal networks. It challenges us to rethink our assumptions about where and how money launderers operate, highlighting the need for comprehensive regulatory frameworks and the timely sharing of information among regulated entities and law enforcers. The road ahead may be fraught with challenges, but as we harness the power of RegTech and strengthen our anti-money laundering measures, we inch closer to a world where the unscrupulous find fewer shadows in which to hide, certainly not in Singapore. The billion-dollar whale may have been captured, but the sea remains vast, and the next hunt is only a matter of time.

Written by: Chionh Chye Kit, Co-Founder & CEO, Cynopsis Solutions


Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What strategies or techniques were used by law enforcement to apprehend the individuals involved in the money laundering syndicate?

A: Law enforcement's success in apprehending individuals involved in the money laundering syndicate suggests a multifaceted approach. This likely involved extensive surveillance, collaboration between various agencies, and possibly undercover operations. While specific operational details might not be disclosed, it's reasonable to assume that a combination of financial intelligence analysis, digital forensics, and traditional investigative methods played a crucial role in uncovering the illicit activities.

Q: How are regulatory authorities addressing vulnerabilities in non-financial sectors exploited by money launderers?

A: Regulatory authorities in Singapore and other jurisdictions are actively addressing vulnerabilities in non-financial sectors exploited by money launderers. This includes enhanced due diligence requirements for professional service providers, stricter oversight of real estate transactions, and increased scrutiny of luxury item dealers. Proposed measures such as the Corporate Service Providers (CSP) Bill aim to strengthen regulations governing corporate service providers, while initiatives like the Collaborative Sharing of Money Laundering/Terrorism Financing Information and Cases (COSMIC) platform facilitate information exchange among financial institutions to combat illicit financial activities.

Q: How effective are RegTech solutions in detecting and preventing money laundering activities, particularly in cases involving sophisticated criminal networks?

A: RegTech solutions play a vital role in detecting and preventing money laundering activities, especially in cases involving sophisticated criminal networks. While these technologies may not have identified every individual involved in the syndicate before their apprehension, they offer robust preventive and detective capabilities.

RegTech platforms like Artemis & Athena equipped with advanced data analytics can be utilised to enhance customer due diligence processes, monitor transaction patterns for suspicious activities, and facilitate compliance with regulatory requirements. As money launderers increasingly leverage technology, RegTech solutions become essential tools for regulated businesses to mitigate risks and safeguard against financial crimes.



  1. "Billion-dollar Money Laundering Case: 9 out of 10 Accused in S'pore Have Cambodian Links." . Read more

  2. "Billion-dollar money laundering case: What charges do the 10 suspects face and what is the value of assets seized?" Read more

  3. "Suspects in $1 Billion Money Laundering Case in S'pore Allegedly Linked to China Gambling Groups." The Straits Times. Read more

  4. "Wives of 10 Arrested in Money Laundering Case Among Suspects Linked to Probe." The Straits Times. Read more

  5. "Who Are the 10 Charged Following the Billion-dollar Anti-money Laundering Raid in S'pore?" The Straits Times. Read more


Empowering Businesses with Artemis 3.0

To ensure a secure financial landscape, businesses can rely on Cynopsis Solutions' Artemis 3.0 AML/KYC solution. This powerful tool empowers organizations to make informed decisions and streamline due diligence processes. By providing comprehensive insights into client-related risks, Artemis 3.0 aligns seamlessly with Singapore's commitment to a resilient financial ecosystem.

At Cynopsis, we proactively assist clients in scanning their client databases against a list of names and promptly notify them of any matches. This equips our clients with the necessary information to take appropriate action, including reporting suspicious transactions.


About Cynopsis Solutions

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Cynopsis Solutions helps companies digitise and automate AML/KYC compliance processes. Our focus is on know-your-customer, anti-money laundering, and counter-terrorism financing.Cynopsis Solutions’ accolades include MAS FinTech Awards, RegTech100, and Financial Times Top 50 High Growth Companies in APAC. Our end-to-end KYC/AML solutions are designed according to the global FATF recommendations and applicable in more than 180 jurisdictions.We've helped firms across various industries, not limited to Banking and Financial Services, Property Development FinTech, Cryptocurrency, Professional Services and Gaming sectors.


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