1MDB trial begins in Singapore

The Old Supreme Court Building on Saint Andrew’s Road, Singapore. Source: Wikimedia

A banker who helped manage the accounts of Malaysian investment fund 1MDB has gone on trial in Singapore.

The trial of Yeo Jiawei, 33, formerly of Swiss bank BSI Singapore, over the 1Malaysia Development Bhd marks the first time a defendant has appeared in court.

The prosecutor said the probe “is by far the most complex, sophisticated and largest money-laundering case” that Singapore police had handled, involving “staggering” sums.

The prosecution’s witnesses included two forensic technology specialists from the Singaporean Criminal Investigation Department.

There is also a Singtel customer service boss who provided call screening data to the authorities during the probe.

Yeo, a former wealth planner, has been in custody since April and allegedly amassed some S$26 million (US$18.7 million) from the scandal. He arrived handcuffed in court in prison uniform.

Allegations that billions of dollars were misappropriated from 1MDB have triggered a scandal in neighbouring Malaysia for its Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Both Najib, who founded the fund, and 1MDB have denied any wrongdoing.

In 2015 Singapore launched a probe into alleged illicit fund flows linked to 1MDB and closed down the branches of two Swiss banks, BSI and Falcon Private Bank, involved in 1MDB.

The case has exposed how Singapore’s private banks were allegedly used to help misappropriate billions of dollars through multiple financial institutions, including BSI.

Yeo faces four charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice, which carry a possible prison sentence if up to seven years per charge.

He will apparently face seven other charges for cheating, money laundering and forgery, allegedly committed during his time at BSI, subsequently.

His lawyer, Philip Fong, has said Yeo would fight all the charges.

The prosecution called four witnesses, including police officers who detailed how they had traced phone records. The trial is expected to last several days.

Yeo was one of six former employees of BSI in Singapore that the central bank referred to law enforcement for possible criminal violations. The authorities also revoked BSI’s banking licence and fined it S$9.7 million Singapore (US$7 million) for its alleged failure to control money laundering.

BSI said at the time it had cooperated with regulators in Singapore and Switzerland and had been continually reforming its compliance culture. It has appealed against similar regulatory action in Switzerland.

Two other former BSI bankers who were referred for possible criminal violations are also facing charges for alleged forgery and other offences.