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1MDB probe: Swiss banker sentenced to 28 weeks in jail

SINGAPORE, Jan 11: Swiss national Jens Fred Sturzenegger was sentenced to 28 weeks’ jail and a fine of S$128,000 on Wednesday (Jan 11), after he pleaded guilty to six of 16 charges relating to Singapore’s 1MDB probe.

He is the first foreigner to be charged and the fifth person to be prosecuted here.

The former branch manager of Falcon Private Bank in Singapore pleaded guilty to charges of failing to report potentially criminal transactions involving billions of dollars, and for lying to authorities to protect the financial interests of prominent Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho who’s implicated in the 1MDB scandal.

During his time with Falcon Private Bank, Sturzenegger failed to comply with a direction from the Monetary of Singapore (MAS), to account for an inflow of US$1.262 billion into two Falcon bank accounts in March 2013. He did not report these suspicious transactions to the MAS, in breach of anti-money laundering regulations.

The 42-year-old also lied to officers about at least four Falcon bank accounts controlled by Mr Low in an attempt to steer investigators away from further looking into these accounts. Sturzenegger claimed the accounts were “beneficially owned” by Eric Tan Kim Loong, a close associate of Mr Low who often acted as his proxy.

To hide his ties to Mr Low, Sturzenegger told investigators that he never met the elusive businessman or spoken to him on the phone. But he had, in fact, done both, and also communicated with Mr Low via an email address bearing Mr Tan’s full name.

When MAS started to look into the suspicious transactions at Falcon Bank, Sturzenegger abetted his colleague Cindy Widjaja, Falcon’s head of compliance, to give false information regarding the four accounts controlled by Mr Low. Ms Widjaja told an MAS officer the accounts were maintained by Mr Tan.

Sturzenegger himself lied to MAS officers as well, both about Mr Low’s bank accounts and the fact that he knew it was Mr Low who used the email address bearing Mr Tan’s name to communicate with and give instructions to Falcon, in relation to the movement of funds in and out of the four accounts.

Falcon Private Bank was shut down last October by the MAS due to serious failures in anti-money laundering controls and improper conduct by senior management. It was the second bank to be closed by Singapore regulators after Swiss bank BSI in May, over the 1MDB scandal.

Last year, three former bankers at BSI’s Singapore branch were convicted for their roles in the 1MDB scandal.

Former top banker Yak Yew Chee and his subordinate Yvonne Seah Yew Foong were found guilty of helping Mr Low to forge documents and for failing to report suspicious transactions involving accounts linked to Mr Low. Yak was sentenced to 18 weeks’ jail and fined S$24,000, while Seah was sentenced to two weeks’ jail and fined S$10,000.

BSI wealth planner Yeo Jiawei was sentenced to 30 months’ jail for tampering with key witnesses in Singapore’s 1MDB probe. He faces seven other charges involving money laundering, cheating and forgery. Those charges will be dealt with in April.

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