By Vanessa Paige Chelvan
Channel News Asia
11 Nov 2016
SINGAPORE: Former private banker Yak Yew Chee, whose clients included Malaysian tycoon Jho Low and subsidiaries of Malaysia’s scandal-hit state fund 1MDB has been jailed 18 weeks and fined S$24,000.
Yak, 57, pleaded guilty on Friday (Nov 11) afternoon to four of seven charges: Two for forging reference letters vouching for the Low family and two for failing to report suspicious transactions involving tens of millions of dollars coursing through BSI bank in Singapore.
Mr Low was named on Thursday as a person of interest in Singapore’s ongoing probe into illicit transactions involving 1MDB, amid allegations he embezzled billions from the state fund.
2 WEEKS, 6 BANKS, 9 TRANSACTIONS AND US$110 MILLION
A district court heard that over two weeks in 2012, using nine bank accounts across six banks locally and overseas, Mr Low moved US$790.35 million (S$1.11 billion) out of 1MDB Energy (Langat), out of which US$110 million eventually made its way into a Swiss bank account in the name of Selune, a firm owned by Mr Low.
The influx of US$110 million into Selune’s account raised the suspicion of Swiss authorities. To head off further enquiries, Mr Low sought Yak’s help to send a referral letter to Swiss bank Rothschild in Zurich to vouch for the legitimacy of the transaction, shielding the true source of the funds – 1MDB Energy (Langat).
“(Yak) did so notwithstanding that it would have already dawned on him that the circular flow of funds … served an ulterior and sinister purpose,” Deputy Public Prosecutor Leong Weng Tat said.
Despite his suspicions that the millions may have been the proceeds of criminal conduct, Yak bypassed the bank’s internal controls to forge and issue the letter to Rothschild, eager to please his biggest client.
He also did not raise the alarm to a Suspicious Transaction Reporting Officer.
NOT AN INNOCENT LAMB, MOTIVATED BY GREED: PROSECUTION
Two years later, Mr Low again asked Yak for a reference letter, this time pertaining to his net worth – US$1.63 billion, or so Mr Low claimed.
Yak again bypassed the bank’s internal controls to issue the letter to BNP Paribas in Switzerland, signed by him and fellow private banker Yvonne Seah Yew Foong.
Prosecutors said Yak was motivated by greed, as he benefitted financially from Mr Low’s transactions. “He was not an innocent lamb,” DPP Leong said. Yak knew the funds had been routed through multiple accounts to mask its true source.
They urged the court to sentence Yak to 20 to 24 weeks’ jail and a fine of S$24,000 to S$30,000.
YAK TO SURRENDER MILLIONS IN PROFIT, SIGN OF “GENUINE CONTRITION”: LAWYER
Yak’s lawyer Lee Teck Leng said his client will surrender S$7.5 million to the State “to demonstrate his genuine contrition”.
He also agreed to assist the Commercial Affairs Department in their ongoing investigation, and to testify against his former colleagues and business associates in future criminal trials.
Yak had “no idea” Mr Low was involved in crime, as the businessman regularly showed up to meetings accompanied by top management of 1MDB. Yak “did not have grounds to believe anything was amiss with purported 1MDB investments”, Mr Lee argued.
He said Yak’s desire to please Mr Low stemmed from the fact that he was BSI’s “most important customer” and the bank’s leaders urged Yak to “keep (Mr Low) happy”.
Mr Lee urged the court to impose a jail term of 12 to 16 weeks and a fine of not more than S$20,000.
BANKERS SHOULD PROTECT TRUST IN THE INDUSTRY: JUDGE
In sentencing Yak, Deputy Presiding Judge Jennifer Marie said she had considered Yak’s contriteness, his willingness to surrender S$7.5 million of his bonuses and his “forthright acceptance of his criminal culpability”.
Yak’s plea of guilt came just a month after he was charged.
“It is imperative the public confidence in the integrity of Singapore’s banking and financial industry is zealously protected,” DPJ Jennifer said.
“Bank officers should be seeking to safeguard (trust in the financial industry) and not succumb to greed and the lure of huge bonuses of the treachery of ‘important’ clients.”
Yak is the first of four individuals charged in connection with Singapore’s 1MDB probe to be convicted.
For forgery, Yak could have been jailed up for four years and fined, and for failing to report suspicious transactions to the authorities, Yak could have been fined up to S$20,000 per charge.