Asia

Jail for duo who cheated two banks by concealing foreign interests behind S'pore firms

SINGAPORE – A Russian man was on Wednesday (Sept 8) sentenced to four weeks’ jail, while his Singaporean accomplice was given two weeks behind bars after they colluded to cheat two banks in 2014 and 2016.

Russian Vadim Koryagin, 53, and Singaporean Andruew Tang You Liang, 32, were charged in 2019 for their offences, which entailed circumventing the banks’ anti-money laundering procedures.

They were convicted earlier this year on three counts of cheating each.

District Judge Eddy Tham said on Wednesday that Koryagin was the “principal driver” in the offences, before handing him the stiffer sentence.

The judge noted that there was no evidence of illicit funds involved in the men’s cases.

Tang had cheated OCBC Bank and Maybank Singapore by concealing from them the “ultimate beneficial ownership” of two companies and a bank account linked to him.

He was one of four Singaporeans charged with offences related to Koryagin’s scheme.

Koryagin was a director in MEA Business Solutions, which helped foreign clients incorporate companies and set up bank accounts in Singapore.

He had a pool of Singaporeans whom he engaged to serve as local resident directors for these firms, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) said in a statement.

This was done to fulfil the regulatory requirement of having at least one director in the firm who is ordinarily a Singapore resident.

Appointing resident nominee directors is allowed under the law, but Koryagin’s and Tang’s crime was in declaring to the banks that Tang controlled the companies when in fact they had foreign owners.

The CPIB said: “Vadim would register each company with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) in the name of the local resident director and list them as the sole shareholder of the company in Acra’s records.

“Vadim would also instruct the local resident director to open a corporate bank account for the company in certain instances.”

He abetted Tang to falsely declare himself to the banks as the ultimate beneficial owner of the companies and bank account in question.

Tang led OCBC into believing that he was the ultimate beneficial owner of two firms, the Babo Group and Evoque Capital Corp.

He also deceived Maybank Singapore into believing that he was the ultimate beneficial owner of a bank account for a company called Sensetec.

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“Vadim had also provided (Tang) with the necessary information to answer the questions posed by bank representatives who were trying to establish the true beneficial ownership of these companies (and) bank accounts,” said the CPIB.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Charis Low said that the pair committed their offences through a combination of false declarations and supporting Acra documents.

She added: “Singapore is committed to combat money laundering through the implementation and strict enforcement of anti-money laundering regulations.

“Attempts to deceive financial institutions and circumvent rigorous know-your-customer due diligence requirements must attract a deterrent sentence.”

Two Singaporean women – Phee Sim Gek, 43, and Seet Mei Siah, 64 – were each sentenced to five days’ jail last year over their roles in the offences.

The case involving a fourth Singaporean, Joel Sam Thomas, 37, is pending.

Acra said on Wednesday that it has cancelled the registration of a filing agent called MEA Business Consultancy, which MEA Business Solutions had engaged to set up 14 local companies and provide corporate secretarial services.

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An online search revealed that Koryagin did not hold directorial positions in MEA Business Consultancy. He was, however, both a director and shareholder at MEA Business Solutions, which was set up in 2014.

Acra has also barred MEA Business Consultancy from acting as a registered filing agent (RFA) from March 8 this year to March 7, 2023.

Acra added: “Cancellation is the most severe measure in the RFA framework introduced in 2015.

“This is the first time Acra has cancelled the registration of a filing agent for anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism breaches.”

In its statement, Acra said: “RFAs play an important role as gatekeepers to prevent illicit activities in the business ecosystem.

“RFAs must exercise due diligence and ensure internal policies, practices and controls are in place to guard against money laundering and financing of terrorism.”

On Wednesday, the court heard that both Tang and Koryagin will be appealing against their convictions and sentences.

For each count of cheating, an offender can be jailed for up to three years and fined.

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