Home English Singapore: not always as clean as it looks 

Singapore: not always as clean as it looks 


For all its obsession with chewing gum-free law and order, Singapore has seen a spike in its crime rate — at least for economic crimes, reports Asia Times.

According to the report the percentage of businesses in the wealthy island-state that reported they had been victims of fraud has more than doubled so far this year compared to recent years, according to a new study from top consulting and accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

So-called economic crimes included in the report run the gamut, from outright bribery or embezzlement, to the humdrum frequency of accounting fraud, to even lies in advertising.

“Fraudsters continue to use opportunities and control gaps created by [a] fast-changing business environment and technological sophistication,” said Chan Kheng Tek, a forensics leader at PwC Singapore.

PwC’s poll, published earlier this month, showed 35% of companies in Singapore have faced or experienced business fraud, up by more than 50% from two years ago, the last time the survey was conducted. PwC said the 2018 fraud figure represents a new record high.

The island nation known for its squeaky clean reputation offers a unique case study. On one hand, it has a clean facade, with high civil servant salaries that seemingly keep graft minimal and an enviable ranking of No 6 on Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index (with No 1 having the least corrupt reputation and No 180 the worst).

On the other hand, Singapore ranks at No 5 on the 2018 Financial Secrecy Index compiled by the Tax Justice Network, a nonprofit group that advocates against tax avoidance. This is one comparative ranking, obviously, on which countries do not want to top the list.

Singapore’s financial opacity has attracted the banking business of believed corrupt actors such as the military generals of Myanmar and the mining tycoons of Indonesia. In 2017, for example, when Jakarta requested citizens to bring their money home from abroad in a tax amnesty, much of the repatriated funds flowed from Singapore banks.

A rising incidence of economic crime, though, does not necessarily translate into a rising trend of corporate criminals in Singapore – or even necessarily a corporate culture that tolerates malfeasance if it pads profits. Indeed, blatant kickbacks and pyramid schemes are more likely to occur in nearby Southeast states like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.


Indeed, Singapore jumped six places to 5th worldwide on AT Kearney’s recently released Global Cities Outlook 2018, an annual survey that ranks global cities on economic performance, livability and quality of life in a holistic assessment of their capabilities and potential. It ranked second worldwide on the survey’s “economics and governance” ranking.

That all said, Singapore is certainly no innocent bystander to economic crime. Stories periodically crop up in the media of companies fudging paperwork to underpay migrant workers, or letting contraband pass through to third countries as long as Singaporeans themselves are not tainted by the pass-through.

Financial hub status has also brought with it financial shenanigans. In March, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the central bank, fined Standard Chartered bank S$6.4 million (US$4.8 million) for transferring client funds from Guernsey, a tax haven, to “possibly” dodge financial reporting laws.

“MAS requires financial institutions to adequately assess money laundering risks when deciding whether to accept customers,” the agency’s deputy managing director Ong Chong Tee said of the Standard Chartered case. “They should also have in place good systems and processes to monitor customer transactions.”

Singapore is grappling with corporate violations at a time of increased focus on regional corruption. In Southeast Asia, there is often a political tinge to criminal corruption accusations and inquiries that sometimes puts Singapore as the region’s banking hub in a tricky middle position.

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