Swiss bank S’pore branch manager slapped with 16 1MDB-linked charges

comments     Fathin Ungku, Reuters     Published     Updated

Singapore prosecutors today filed 16 charges against the former local branch manager of Swiss-based Falcon Private Bank AG as part of an ongoing investigation tied to scandal-hit state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

The bank, which is also under investigation at home, was the second Swiss lender whose Singaporean unit was ordered to cease operations last year after BSI Bank Ltd. The action came as the city-state tried to repair the reputation of its financial centre which played host to some 1MDB-related activity.

1MDB, founded by Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, is the subject of money-laundering investigations in at least six countries, including Switzerland, Singapore and the United States.

US investigators traced nearly US$700 million that was sent from an account at Falcon in Singapore in 2013 to accounts in Malaysia belonging to "Malaysian Official 1", which US and Malaysian officials have told Reuters refers to Najib.

Najib, who also chaired 1MDB's advisory board, has denied wrongdoing and said Malaysia will cooperate with international investigations. 1MDB has also denied wrongdoing.

In Singapore today, prosecutors filed 10 charges of providing false information, five charges of failing to disclose suspicious information and one charge of failing to submit suspicious transactions against Swiss national Jens Sturzenegger, who headed Falcon's local branch. Falcon is owned by Abu Dhabi's International Petroleum Investment Co PJSC.

In Switzerland, Falcon said Sturzenegger is a former employee of the bank and declined to comment.

The charge sheet states Sturzenegger, who was arrested in October, gave false information to officials at the Monetary Authority of Singapore and Singapore Police Force's Commercial Affairs Department. In one instance, Sturzenegger said he became aware of Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho through press articles though he knew him "in person", the charge sheet showed.

Singapore authorities previously identified the financier, commonly known as Jho Low, as a person of interest in 1MDB-related investigations. Low is also named in civil lawsuits filed by the US Department of Justice, which allege more than US$3.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB.

Authorities in Singapore have frozen Low's assets though the 34-year-old has not been charged with any offence related to 1MDB. Reuters could not reach Low for comment.

Falcon's Sturzenegger intends to plead guilty at a hearing on Jan 11, his lawyer Tan Hee Joek from Tan See Swan & Co told the court. It was not immediately clear on which charges he would plead guilty.

Singapore last year jailed three ex-BSI bankers, seized assets and sanctioned several lenders in what it has called its most complex, sophisticated and largest money-laundering case.

- Reuters

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