Panama Papers throw up confusing Singapore names

THE dreaded exposure of the Panama Papers has turned up some household names in Singapore including the three local banks but there is also a fair bit of confusion as some names have been misused.

On Monday, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) published online detailed data from the Panama Papers trove on more than 200,000 secret offshore companies.

It is easy to search the database, and find out who's behind almost 320,000 offshore companies and trusts from the Panama Papers and the Offshore Leaks investigations, said the ICIJ.

Last month, the ICIJ said it would be sharing the massive leak of 11.5 million documents from Mossack Fonseca, a Panama-based law firm with offices in more than 35 countries, including Singapore.

The disclosures showed that some world leaders, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin and British Prime Minister David Cameron, and many celebrities including Jackie Chan have links to offshore companies.

The leak has led to the resignations of Iceland's prime minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, and Spain's industry minister Jose Manuel Soria.

But the data leaked can be confusing because some names don't match up.

For instance, Law Society of Singapore is not The Law Society of Singapore which represents lawyers here. A spokesperson of the Law Society said: "The Law Society of Singapore does not have any overseas accounts, nor has it incorporated any overseas entities. The Law Society's name has obviously been misused and we will be conducting an inquiry into that."

Search DBS and DBS Foundation comes up but a spokeswoman from DBS Bank said that it is not the same entity which was launched in 2014 as part of the group's SG50 celebrations. DBS set up the S$50 million DBS Foundation in conjunction with the nation's Jubilee.

But DBS does have offshore entities such as DBS Trustee and The Development Bank of Singapore Ltd (now known as DBS Bank Ltd), as disclosed in the database.

"The use of professional services providers is common," said the spokeswoman.

"With regard to offshore or trust structures, the law obliges us to take steps to identify ultimate beneficial owners and we do not support the use of concealment techniques. As with any incident, we study all information carefully and take action where required," she said.

UOB Private Banking & Trust also pops up when you search UOB and it states that the data is from Offshore Leaks and that its agent is Portcullis Trustnet. "UOB does not use Mossack Fonseca's office in Panama," said a bank spokeswoman.

Portcullis Trustnet, a Singapore-based company, came under fire in 2013 when its documents were also leaked. ICIJ had previously said Portcullis TrustNet - since renamed Portcullis Group - was helping the rich to use offshore entities to dodge taxes.

OCBC Bank has several offshore entities, according to the database.

Koh Ching Ching, OCBC head of group corporate communications, said high net worth individuals may use the services of various professional service providers, such as accounting firms, corporate secretarial firms and law firms for legitimate purposes, for example, setting up of offshore or trust structures for wealth planning purposes, such as estate planning.

"Offshore structures are also used for other legitimate purposes such as business finance or mergers and acquisitions," said Ms Koh.

OCBC's private bank Bank of Singapore "exercises stringent screening controls to ensure compliance with both internal and regulatory requirements, including anti-money laundering and tax evasion laws, before on-boarding a client", she said.

Foreign banks such as HSBC have several offshore entities on the database like HSBC Trustee (Singapore) Limited.

The regulators here - the Ministry of Finance and Monetary Authority of Singapore - said they "are reviewing the batch of information that was released this morning on the persons and entities identified in the Panama Papers".

"If there is evidence of wrong-doing by any individual or entity in Singapore, we will not hesitate to take firm supervisory and enforcement action," they said in a joint statement.

This article was first published on May 11, 2016.
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