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Nikkei Markets

Sharp increase in reported white-collar crime in Singapore

Investments to combat such crimes are also rising, survey shows

The economic crime and fraud survey examined over 7,200 respondents from 123 territories, of which 118 were from Singapore.   © Reuters

SINGAPORE (Nikkei Markets) -- Over a third of Singapore businesses said they were hit by fraud in the last two years as threats increased and detection methods improved.

According to a global survey conducted by PwC every two years, the proportion is a sharp rise from 2016, when just 22% of organizations in the city-state said they reported economic crime.

The increase echoes the global trend, the survey found. The economic crime and fraud survey examined over 7,200 respondents from 123 territories, of which 118 were from Singapore.

However, while instances of bribery and corruption in Singapore were lower than the global average, incidents related to money laundering were higher.

One factor could be the greater number of regulatory inspections in Singapore than elsewhere.

Just this week, Singapore regulators launched two papers with best-practice recommendations for financial institutions to combat money laundering and terrorism financing. The move comes soon after the Monetary Authority of Singapore imposed penalties of S$5.2 million ($3.9 million) on the Singapore branch of Standard Chartered Bank and S$1.2 million on Standard Chartered Trust for breaching related requirements.

Between 2016 and 2017, in the wake of the scandal surrounding Malaysian state fund 1MDB, Singapore shut two private Swiss banks for violating anti money-laundering rules among others, fined many, including DBS, United Overseas Bank and Credit Suisse, and banned individuals from the finance industry. U.S. investigators have alleged that billions went missing from the fund.

Singapore has a high anti-corruption ranking - it was ranked sixth in Transparency International's corruption perceptions index for 2017.

However, bribery has occurred beyond its shores.

The survey found that a quarter of Singapore respondents felt they had lost an overseas opportunity to a competitor they believed paid a bribe while 21% said they had been asked to pay a bribe. That compared with single-digit percentages when it came to operations within Singapore.

Many of these incidents involved using third-party intermediaries or agents to win contracts in high-risk territories, the survey said.

In a recent instance, Keppel O&M, a unit of conglomerate Keppel Corp. in which state investment firm Temasek Holdings has a stake, agreed to pay $422 million in fines to U.S., Brazil and Singapore authorities after it was embroiled in a bribery case in Brazil.

Even with a greater risk of financial crimes occurring in overseas business, the PwC survey found that only half of Singapore-based companies did additional due diligence as part of business acquisitions abroad.

However, the increased awareness and higher number of fraud cases have also boosted investments to combat it. Singapore organizations are planning to invest in advanced technologies at a faster rate than their global counterparts, the survey found. Slightly more than half the respondents spent more on investigations or interventions than what was lost in the crime, compared with a global average of only 28%.

Many respondents also reported addressing fraud prevention through corporate initiatives - a third of the most disruptive frauds in Singapore-based organizations were detected via tip-offs or hotlines, the survey found.

--Leslie Shaffer

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