Andrea Tan and Livia Yap
November 11, 2016
Yak Yew Chee, a former BSI SA private banker, became the first person to be found guilty in a Singapore case linked to 1Malaysia Development Bhd. He also became the first banker to be convicted in the global corruption and money laundering probes surrounding the Malaysian investment fund.
Yak pleaded guilty in a Singapore court Friday and the judge convicted him of four charges, including forging documents and failing to disclose suspicious transactions allegedly related to Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho. The former senior banker at BSI had faced seven charges, and prosecutors said the other three charges would be taken into consideration for sentencing.
Low has been named as a key person of interest by Singapore authorities and characterized by U.S. prosecutors as the controller of an illicit payments scheme draining billions from the Malaysian investment fund. The high-living financier had previously described his role with 1MDB as informal consulting that didn’t break any laws.
Efforts to reach Low haven’t been successful. A call to Low’s Hong Kong-based company Jynwel Capital earlier Friday wasn’t answered. Both 1MDB and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who formerly chaired 1MDB’s advisory board, have consistently denied any wrongdoing.
Yak, along with his former subordinate Yvonne Seah Yew Foong, were charged last month for their roles in forging bank reference letters and not reporting suspicious banking activities allegedly involving Low. Yak, 57, was also a banker for 1MDB and related entities, his lawyer had said previously. Another of Yak’s former colleagues, Yeo Jiawei, is currently on trial for obstructing justice by attempting to tamper with witnesses in the probe.
The judge sentenced Yak to 18 weeks in jail and a S$24,000 fine.
“It is imperative that the public confidence in the integrity of Singapore’s banking and financial industry is zealously protected,” Judge Jennifer Marie said in handing down the sentence. “Bank officers should be seeking to safeguard the public trust and confidence in the financial industry and not succumb to the greed and the lure of huge bonuses or the treachery of ‘important’ clients.”
Yak was remorseful and took his cue from the top management at BSI in his dealings with Low, his lawyer Lee Teck Leng said. Yak will voluntarily disgorge S$7.5 million and agree to cooperate with prosecutors, Lee said. The convicted banker through his lawyer pleaded for leniency for his long-time colleague Seah, who hasn’t pleaded on her charges.
Yak “had no reasonable grounds to believe that Low was involved in criminal conduct,” or that there was something amiss with the purported 1MDB investments, Lee said. “Low very frequently declined to provide further details or explanation on the ground that the deals were government to government and hence state secret.”
Singapore regulators have ordered BSI and Falcon Private Bank to stop operations for money laundering breaches related to moving funds associated with 1MDB.
The case is Public Prosecutor v Yak Yew Chee, Singapore State Courts.