MAS 1MDB crackdown continues as Falcon Private Bank suspended and UBS, DBS fined

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has announced that it is withdrawing the merchant bank status of Falcon Private Bank Ltd, Singapore Branch (Falcon Bank) for serious failures in anti-money laundering controls and improper conduct by senior management at the head office in Switzerland as well as the Singapore Branch. 

MAS said in a statement, released earlier today, that it is also imposing financial penalties on DBS Bank Ltd (DBS) and UBS AG, Singapore Branch (UBS) for breaches of MAS’ anti-money laundering (AML) requirements.

The move follows yesterday’s decision to charge two former employees of Swiss bank BSI with criminal offences including forgery, as part of the investigations into transactions linked to 1MDB, the investment fund set up by Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak.

The MAS also said that it is also finalising its assessment of Standard Chartered Bank, Singapore Branch, and will make an announcement in due course. MAS has referred the 1MDB-related transactions processed by Raffles Money Change to the Commercial Affairs Department for their follow-up investigation.

On the Falcon Bank suspension and the UBS and DBS fines MAS said that today’s actions on the three banks follow supervisory examinations by into 1MDB-related fund flows that took place through these banks from March 2013 to May 2015. MAS’ investigations benefitted from close cooperation with various overseas regulatory counterparts, in particular the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA), its statement said.

Falcon Bank

Swiss-headquartered Falcon Bank has been operating as a merchant bank in Singapore since August 2008, offering boutique private banking services. MAS conducted inspections on Falcon Bank in 2013 and 2015. The 2013 inspection found weaknesses in the bank’s controls for client acceptance and transaction surveillance that led to breaches of MAS’ AML requirements. Falcon Bank paid a composition fine of S$300,000 (US$216,000) for these breaches, and MAS instructed the merchant bank to strengthen its AML controls. The 2015 inspection uncovered an even larger number of regulatory breaches as well as serious failings on the part of head office senior management and the Singapore branch manager.

MAS has therefore decided to withdraw Falcon Bank’s status as a merchant bank in Singapore, taking into account the following factors:

  • The merchant bank’s head office failed to guard against conflicts of interest when managing the account of a customer who was associated with the bank’s former board chairman Mohamed Ahmed Badawy Al-Husseiny. The former chairman misled and influenced the Singapore branch into processing the customer’s unusually large transactions despite multiple red flags.
  • The improper conduct of the Singapore branch manager and certain senior managers at the head office had impaired the effectiveness of the Singapore branch’s compliance function in discharging its responsibilities. The MAS found that their interference was “wrongful and egregious” in nature, and contributed to substantial breaches of AML regulations. MAS has been informed that the Singapore branch manager, Mr Jens Sturzenegger, has been arrested by the Commercial Affairs Department on 5 October 2016.
  • Falcon Bank has demonstrated a “persistent and severe lack of understanding” of MAS’ AML requirements and expectations. Taking into account the totality of Falcon Bank’s conduct, MAS’ assessment is that the merchant bank will be unable to comply with these requirements and expectations going forward.

MAS has imposed on Falcon Bank financial penalties amounting to S$4.3m (US$3.09m) for 14 breaches of MAS Notice 1014 – Prevention of Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism. The breaches include failures to adequately assess irregularities in activities pertaining to customer accounts, and file suspicious transaction reports.

DBS and UBS

MAS also said that it has completed its inspections of DBS and UBS in relation to their 1MDB-related fund flows. The inspections revealed several breaches of AML requirements and control lapses.  There were deficiencies in the on-boarding of new accounts, weaknesses in corroborating the source of funds, inadequate scrutiny of customers’ transactions and activities, and failure to file timely suspicious transaction reports.

The control lapses observed in DBS and UBS relate to specific bank officers who failed to carry out their duties effectively. MAS’ inspections did not find pervasive control weaknesses within these banks. MAS has admonished the two banks and instructed their management to investigate the lapses, promptly address the control deficiencies, and take appropriate disciplinary measures against the staff involved.

Financial penalties

MAS has imposed financial penalties amounting to S$1m (US$720,000) on DBS for 10 breaches and S$1.3m (US$936,000) on UBS for 13 breaches of MAS Notice 626 – Prevention of Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism. MAS has also directed DBS and UBS to appoint an independent party to confirm that rectification measures have been effectively implemented and to report its findings to MAS.

‘Clean and trusted financial centre’

Mr Ravi Menon, managing director, MAS, said: “Keeping Singapore a clean and trusted financial centre is a shared responsibility. The board and senior management of each financial institution play a pivotal role.  They must put in place robust mechanisms to detect suspicious activities, promote strong risk awareness among their staff, and empower their compliance and risk management people.

“Most of all, they must set the tone from the top – that profits do not come before right conduct. MAS will work closely with the industry to ensure that standards are kept high and will take strong deterrent actions against institutions that fall short.”

In its statement MAS added that clients and customers of Falcon Bank are assured that the merchant bank, which is a branch of Falcon Private Bank Ltd in Switzerland, has the full support of its head office which is financially sound. MAS is working closely with FINMA, the home regulator of Falcon Private Bank Ltd, to oversee an orderly closure of the merchant bank branch in Singapore.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gary Robinson
Deputy Editor, International Investment and Head of Video at Open Door Media Publishing. A fully qualified journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years' financial services experience, both as journalist and originally as an IFA.

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