Swiss jailed in Singapore over Malaysia's 1MDB saga

Toh Ting Wei
Swiss banker Jens Fred Sturzenegger (R) has been jailed for seven months in Singapore for money laundering, January 11, 2017

A Swiss banker was jailed for seven months in Singapore on Wednesday for money laundering and other offences related to a corruption scandal involving neighbouring Malaysia's state fund 1MDB.

Jens Fred Sturzenegger, 42, who headed the Singapore branch of Swiss lender Falcon Private Bank, was also fined Sg$128,000 ($89,000) after he pleaded guilty at a district court, making him the first foreigner linked to the scandal convicted in Singapore.

Allegations that huge sums were misappropriated from 1MDB have triggered a scandal which has embroiled Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, though the leader has denied any wrongdoing.

Three Singaporean private bankers from another Swiss lender, BSI, were jailed last year in relation to the affair.

Among them was Yeo Jiawei, who was sentenced to 30 months in prison for witness tampering and obstructing the 1MDB probe. Other money laundering charges are set for an April trial.

It was revealed during Yeo's trial that he worked closely with Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low, a family friend of Najib.

Najib founded the 1MDB fund while Low helped set it up and played a key role in its decisions. Low has also denied wrongdoing.

State prosecutors said Sturzenegger lied when he told Singapore investigators he did not know it was Low who owned the Falcon bank accounts involved in the suspicious transactions.

Low had used the alias Eric Tan in his dealings with Falcon, but the prosecutors said Sturzenegger was aware of it and had even met the Malaysian businessman.

Prosecutors also said that despite having suspicions of "astronomical sums" of more than $1 billion moving into Low's accounts at Falcon, Sturzenegger did not file a suspicious transaction report to financial regulators.

Singapore, a regional financial hub known for its transparency and tough stance on corruption, last year kicked out Falcon Bank and BSI for what regulators called massive lapses in financial controls.

Both banks were allegedly used to transfer illicit funds.

The United States and Switzerland have also launched investigations into the 1MDB fund but only Singapore has meted out convictions so far.

- 'Extremely modest' salary -

Sturzenegger was initially slapped with 16 charges, including six for allegedly failing to report suspicious transactions totalling $1.7 billion in March 2013.

Another 10 charges were for giving false information to Singapore authorities who were investigating the use of the city-state's banking system as a conduit for the transfer of illicit funds involving 1MDB.

He pleaded guilty to three charges related to money laundering and three charges of giving false information. The other charges were taken into consideration in the sentencing.

Sturzenegger's lawyer told the court in a mitigation plea before the sentencing that his client did not personally profit from the transactions.

He also said the Swiss banker's annual salary of Sg$400,000 ($278,000) was "extremely modest" compared with that earned by the BSI bankers implicated in the 1MDB case.

Defence lawyer Tan Hee Joek told reporters after the hearing that his client was "unlikely" to appeal the sentence and that Sturzenegger would start serving the jail time on Wednesday.

In his sentencing, Judge Ow Yong Tuck Leong said he agreed with the prosecution to impose a deterrent sentence as Sturzenegger had shown "persistent deceitful conduct".

But he also acknowledged that Sturzenegger "fully cooperated" with the investigation and was a first-time offender.