Singapore files 16 charges against Falcon branch manager amid 1MDB-linked probe

The logo of the Swiss Falcon Private Bank is pictured late on October 13, 2016 at the Falcon headquarters in Zurich.
Fabrice Coffrini | AFP | Getty Images

Singapore prosecutors on Thursday filed 16 charges against the former local branch manager of Swiss-based Falcon Private Bank as part of an ongoing investigation tied to scandal-hit state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd. (1MDB).

The bank, which is also under investigation at home, was the second Swiss lender whose Singaporean unit was ordered to cease operations last year after BSI Bank. The action came as the city-state tried to repair the reputation of its financial center which played host to some 1MDB-related activity.

1MDB, founded by Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak, is the subject of money laundering investigations in at least six countries, including Switzerland, Singapore and the United States.

U.S. investigators traced nearly $700 million that was sent from an account at Falcon in Singapore in 2013 to accounts in Malaysia belonging to "Malaysian Official 1", which U.S. and Malaysian officials have told Reuters refers to Najib.

Najib, who also chaired 1MDB's advisory board, has denied wrongdoing and said Malaysia will cooperate with international investigations. 1MDB has also denied wrongdoing.

Singapore cracks down on 1MDB-linked accounts

In Singapore on Thursday, prosecutors filed 10 charges of providing false information, five charges of failing to disclose suspicious information and one charge of failing to submit suspicious transactions against Swiss national Jens Sturzenegger, who headed Falcon's local branch. Falcon is owned by Abu Dhabi's International Petroleum Investment Company.

In Switzerland, Falcon said Sturzenegger is a former employee of the bank and declined to comment.

The charge sheet states Sturzenegger, who was arrested in October, gave false information to officials at the Monetary Authority of Singapore and Singapore Police Force's Commercial Affairs Department. In one instance, Sturzenegger said he became aware of Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho through press articles though he knew him "in person", the charge sheet showed.

Singapore authorities previously identified the financier, commonly known as Jho Low, as a person of interest in 1MDB-related investigations. Low is also named in civil lawsuits filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, which allege more than $3.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB.

Authorities in Singapore have frozen Low's assets, although the 34-year-old has not been charged with any offence related to 1MDB. Reuters could not reach Low for comment.

Falcon's Sturzenegger intends to plead guilty at a hearing on Jan. 11, his lawyer Tan Hee Joek from Tan See Swan & Co told the court. It was not immediately clear on which charges he would plead guilty.

Singapore last year jailed three ex-BSI bankers, seized assets and sanctioned several lenders in what it has called its most complex, sophisticated and largest money-laundering case.

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