Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Singapore - a good place for spivs to do business

Spiv - a British word for a particular kind of character, typically identified by slick clothing and sales patter, dealing in goods that are not what they seem or have been obtained in a dodgy fashion.

The spiv culture lives on, nowhere more so than in the shadowy world of secrecy jurisdictions. The latest edition of The Strait Times - a Singapore based publication - carries an article titled "Singapore tipped to gain from crackdown on tax havens", which crows that as the rest of the world tries to crack down on tax evasion and other economic crimes, major banks operating out of centres like Singapore will benefit:

"Singapore and other global financial hubs will gain from the US-led clampdown by wealthy nations on cross-border tax frauds, bankers and analysts said."

And its not hard to see why the dodgy money is heading towards Singapore. The authorities deny the place is spivvy, but look at the legal environment it provides: strict banking secrecy laws, no register of trusts and foundations, neither company accounts nor company ownership details are placed on public record. On the regulatory side, the island-state is not rated by the Financial Action Task Force as meeting its compliance requirements, and on international cooperation Singapore has virtually no tax information exchange agreements (and even if it did have such agreements would not be able to honour them since little of the information required for effective information exchange is obtained in the first place). A tax evader's paradise, backed by a repressive state.

Not something to boast about, one might have thought, especially at a time when regulators are questioning whether banks contribute to social welfare.

But step forward Didier von Daeniken, chief executive of Barclays Wealth Asia Pacific, quoted in the article saying "the island-state’s long-standing strengths - including a well-educated and skilled workforce, top-class infrastructure and a well-regulated financial sector - made it a competitive financial and business centre."

Bankers. Don't you love 'em.

PostScript - Well whadya know? No sooner do we blog these comments on Singapore and along comes the World Bank with their 2010 Doing Business report which ranks Singapore as the best place in the world to do business.

¿Which planet do they come from? A standing joke in the fantastic
Men in Black films, is that aliens granted entry visas to stay on Earth are parked into the US postal service so that the agency can keep a closer eye on them. Good gag, but the truth is stranger than fiction: the weirdest of the bunch seem to have ended up at the WB


Blogger Michael Velten said...

Your report on Singapore is outdated and misleading.

There is nothing like ignoring facts that don’t sit comfortably with at what at best can be described as a distorted thesis.

Consider the following:

1. Trustee companies are required to be licensed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore and meet strict AML/KYC requirements.
2. Save for exempt private companies, accounts are required to be filed with ACRA, which is a public record. These may be searched for a fee.
3. All companies are required to lodge an annual report with ACRA. Again this is a public record.
4. Accounts of Singapore companies must be filed with the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore.
5. Singapore now has 6 Exchange of Information Agreements using the new OECD standard with Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium. More agreements are expected in the near future.
6. Singapore is hardly a tax evader’s paradise. (If in doubt, read the media release by the IRAS yesterday on its latest prosecution for tax evasion. This is the latest of many).
7. The Singapore tax system is a respected one as are tax policy makers in Singapore and the tax administration.

As for being a repressive regime, I have spent 8 living and working in Singapore and have travelled to Singapore for business over a further 10 year period. I have never felt other than free, welcome and safe.

6:50 am  
Blogger TJN said...

@Michael Velten

"nothing like ignoring facts that don't sit comfortably with . . . a distorted thesis"

Which of the following propositions is false?

1. banking secrecy is protected by law;

2. there is no register of trusts and foundations (not the same thing as requiring trustee companies to be registered);

3. company accounts are not placed on public record;

4. company ownership details are not available on public record;

5. Singapore does not meet the low threshold of 12 tax information exchange agreements set by the OECD - and that threshold should be increased by a multiple of at least 5 to become meaningful;

6. Singapore did not achieve the FATF 'largely compliant' rating.

As for your having lived and worked in Singapore for many years, you should be well aware of the treatment meted out to those who dissent and the censorship of the press. Or do these trivial things not matter?

John Christensen

10:17 am  
Blogger Michael Velten said...

In response:

1. Company accounts are placed on the public record. Company ownership details are placed on the public record:

 a. Audited accounts for most Singapore companies are required to be filed with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority – “ACRA”. The accounts are placed on the public record. These may be accessed.
 b. Company ownership details (amongst many other details) are required to be filed on an annual return that is submitted to ACRA. This is a matter of public record. This detail may be accessed.

Please look at the ACRA website at

2. If the fact in support of the broader proposition in the posting was that “Singapore does not meet the low threshold of 12 tax information exchange agreements set by the OECD - and that threshold should be increased by a multiple of at least 5 to become meaningful” why was that not stated in the posting as opposed to “Singapore has virtually no tax information exchange agreements”.

3. Singapore has signaled its commitment to exchange of information.

4. Please consider MAS Notice to Trust Companies on Prevention of Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism [MAS Notice TCA-N03].

5. Singapore has achieved 43 compliant/largely compliant FATF ratings. This puts it on par with the United States at or near the top of countries surveyed, which to my mind constitutes an excellent rating. On banking secrecy (recommendation 4), Singapore’s laws are regarded as "compliant" and the FATF observes that "This Recommendation is fully observed".

6. Personally, how Singapore being a supposedly “repressive” regime is relevant to the central viewpoint that was being sought to be conveyed in the posting is lost on me. That said if you have evidence of the “treatment meted out to those who dissent and the censorship of the press” please enlighten me.

I welcome debate on tax and tax policy issues.

I would like to think that all are agreed though that the quality of that debate is enhanced if it is based on an accurate presentation of all of the relevant facts.

9:55 pm  
Blogger TJN said...

@ Michael Velten

Thanks for your further comments. Due to space limits I have posted our reply in a separate blog:

best wishes


7:48 am  

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