Singapore watchdog examines Pandora papers investigation findings about Asiaciti Trust

Leaked documents shed fresh light on activities of offshore provider and some of its customers

The Monetary Authority of Singapore says it is examining media reports about the Pandora papers leak of offshore information that reveal allegations that an offshore provider it regulates, Asiaciti Trust, failed to properly vet some of its clients.

An MAS spokesperson said the regulator was “examining the information from these latest reports and will conduct supervisory follow-up as warranted”.

“MAS does not tolerate the abuse of our financial system for illicit activities and will not hesitate to take action against FIs [financial institutions] if they breach these requirements.”

The Pandora papers, a leak of almost 12m documents from offshore service providers, have shed fresh light on the activities of Asiaciti and some of its customers.

On Monday the Guardian reported that MAS cited Asiaciti’s handling of some transactions involving high-profile Russian businessmen as examples of the trust failing to adequately corroborate the source of its clients’ funds, and criticised its senior management, including its founder, the Australian accountant Graeme Briggs, for failing to set an “appropriate tone, risk appetite and compliance culture for the company”.

Pandora papers documents show that Asiaciti’s services were also engaged in 2017 by Punjab politician Chaudry Moonis Elahi, now a minister in Imran Khan’s Pakistan government, in a plan to invest through tax havens, which was called off after he was told his country’s tax authorities would be informed. The leaked documents do not specify why Elahi became concerned and a spokesperson for the Elahi family rejected any allegations of wrongdoing, and said the family’s assets were all declared as required by law.

Last year, without publicly identifying specific cases of concern, MAS fined Asiaciti S$1.1m for “serious breaches” of its anti-money-laundering and counter-terrorism finance requirements between 2007 and 2018. MAS said at the time these included failing to properly establish the source of wealth of customers and failing to consider whether it should report “unusually large transactions with no obvious economic purpose, undertaken by customers who were politically exposed persons” to the authorities.

The MAS spokesperson said: “Following MAS enforcement action against Asiaciti in July 2020, Asiaciti had taken remedial measures to address the deficiencies identified by MAS, including conducting a review of customer accounts and transactions, terminating a number of higher risk trust accounts and filing suspicious transaction reports.

“MAS continues to exercise close supervision of Asiaciti Trust.”

The Guardian has approached Asiaciti for comment on the MAS statement.

Asiaciti has previously said that information provided to it by the Guardian contained “many inaccuracies and instances where important details are missing, which have led to grossly misleading inferences and conclusions about Asiaciti Trust”.

“We take this opportunity to inform you that your allegations about us are premised on inaccuracies and incomplete information,” it said.

Asiaciti would not provide details of the alleged inaccuracies when asked by the Guardian.

It said it had a “strong compliance program” and “each of our offices have passed third party audits for anti-money laundering and counter-financing of terrorism practices in recent years, which reflects our intense focus on this area. No compliance program is infallible – and when an issue is identified, we take necessary steps with regard to the client engagement and make the appropriate notifications to regulatory agencies.”

It also said it had worked diligently to comply with regulations as they changed over the decades. “Compliance is core to our business and we have adapted our company to meet the changing requirements. Any organisation operating over such a length of time is likely to have legacy matters that do not reflect the current business.

“We recognize there have been isolated instances in the past where we have not kept pace, and in these situations we have worked closely with regulatory authorities to address any deficiencies and quickly updated our policies and procedures.”

Contributor

Ben Butler

The GuardianTramp

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