Last month, the Asia Sentinel reported that the US Treasury Department has initiated a wide-ranging campaign against money laundering particularly targeting the governments in Cyprus, Beirut, Singapore and the Gulf states ('US Mounts Major Global Anti-Money-Laundering Campaign', 31 May).
The US government wants to stop the flow of billions of dollars that wash through the financial system every day from Russia, Iran and China, the report said.
A spokesman for the US Treasury Department confirmed that it is "undertaking initiatives against money laundering in several different countries as part of an ongoing process."
In the case of Singapore, it has been estimated that Singapore has the equivalent of US$368 billion from Indonesia in its banks – 40 percent of the Singapore's total bank deposits.
In one astounding heist, more than US$13.5 billion was looted from the Indonesian central bank’s recapitalization lifeline to 48 ailing banks during the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis. As the government poured money into the banks in the attempt to save them, the bankers were stealing it and moving the money to Singapore, Asia Sentinel reported.
Asia Sentinel estimated that some 18,000 Indonesians described as "rich" live in Singapore. They were said to be worth a combined total of US$87 billion, more than Indonesia’s entire annual government budget at the time. One of the richest men from Indonesia, the late Liem Sioe Liong who was known to be close to Suharto, lived in Singapore before he passed away in 2012. He was buried in Singapore.
Asia Sentinel also reported that Myanmar generals had moved millions of stolen funds out of their country into Singapore banks. "The Singaporeans were so grateful that in 2009, they named an orchid planted in their spectacular Singapore Botanic Garden for Thein Sein when he paid a visit," it said.
To be fair, Singapore did take actions against Swiss banks BSI Bank and Falcon Private Bank, and withdrawing their licenses in 2016 for acting as conduits for billions of dollars funneled from the scandal-ridden 1MDB, after the FBI launched an investigation into allegations of money laundering at 1MDB state fund in 2015.
Asia Sentinel was created to provide a platform for news, analysis and opinion on national and regional issues in Asia. It positioned itself as independent of all governments and major media enterprises.
It has twice won the top award for investigative and interpretive reporting from the Society of Publishers in Asia, Asia’s version of the Pulitzer Prize and it is highly respected in the business, economics and diplomatic communities across the region.
John Berthelsen, the Editor of Asia Sentinel, was formerly the managing editor of The Standard newspaper in Hong Kong. He was also a correspondent for Newsweek Magazine during the Vietnam War, the Asian Wall Street Journal and the Sacramento Bee.