Singapore monitoring new forms of illicit financing
Asian financial hub Singapore on Friday said it was scrutinising trade in virtual currencies such as Bitcoin as well as precious stones and metals to forestall new forms of illicit financing by criminals and terrorists.
In an inaugural report on money laundering and terrorist financing risks, the city-state said these sectors were identified for further study "as technology evolves and criminals become more sophisticated".
"Authorities will seek to better understand how money laundering and terrorist financing can be carried out through these channels," said the joint report by the finance and home affairs ministries as well as the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).
It said the government would "review international best practices, to determine whether any safeguards and mitigating measures are needed".
The report said virtual money and precious metal-backed currencies carry the risk of being abused due to their anonymity, cross-border nature and low transaction costs.
The MAS, which serves as the city-state's central bank, "is closely monitoring developments in this area and will consider the need for regulation if necessary", the report said.
Bitcoin, the world's most popular form of electronic money, made headlines last year when US authorities closed the Silk Road website when it was found the currency was being used to buy illegal drugs, forged documents, hacker tools and even the services of hitmen.
The report also said Singapore was monitoring the trade in precious stones and metals.
"There are international typologies on the use of precious stones and metals as a tool to launder money, particularly as a store-of-value to move illicit proceeds easily," it added.
The bank said of 22 sectors that were assessed, the city's vast financial sector remained among the most vulnerable to abuse owing to the large number of transactions that take place and its wide international reach.
Singapore houses the regional offices of some of the world's top financial institutions and its total assets under management are now around Sg$1.4 trillion ($1.02 trillion), according to the MAS.
The report said "relevant controls are in place" for financial institutions, including supervision by MAS, record keeping, transaction monitoring and rigorous customer due diligence measures.
It identified remittance agents, money-changers, Internet-based stored value facility holders, pawnbrokers as well as corporate service providers as sectors where "controls are relatively less robust".
"Relevant government agencies will be strengthening the legislative and supervisory framework through the year to address the risks in these sectors more effectively," it said.
"The possibility that terrorist elements may seek to direct funds from abroad to support terrorism activities in Singapore or use Singapore as a conduit for foreign (terrorist financing) cannot be discounted," the report said.
Singapore in 2001 said it crippled a cell of the Southeast Asia-based militant network Jemaah Islamiyah with the arrest of suspects linked to an alleged plot to bomb local and foreign targets including Changi Airport.
Officials say the island republic is a prime target for extremist groups because of its close ties with the United States and major role in global finance and business.