Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Singapore bank secrecy under the spotlight

Allegations that Myanmar's junta is stashing billions of dollars in Singapore have thrown a spotlight on banking secrecy in the city-state, which strongly denies being a haven for hot money. US-based human rights group EarthRights International says that energy majors Total and Chevron are propping up the sanctions-hit Myanmar military regime with profits from a gas project totalling nearly five billion dollars.

Total and Chevron have rejected the charge and two Singapore banks named in the ERI report as the repositories for most of the money -- the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. (OCBC) and DBS -- have dismissed it as false and baseless.

Wealthy Asians regard Singapore as the Switzerland of Asia, a rock-solid financial centre where savings can be kept safely and discreetly. But critics say some of the money comes from unsavoury sources. Officials in neighbouring Indonesia are trying to recover tens of millions of dollars allegedly stashed in Singapore during the rule of the late dictator Suharto.

And rival Philippine groups are suing to gain control over more than 25 million US dollars that formerly belonged to the family of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and is currently frozen in an offshore bank in Singapore.

In 2007, the last year for when official figures are available, assets under management in Singapore totalled 814 billion US dollars, up 32 percent from 2006. About 86 percent is from foreign sources.

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