askST: Are sentences in $3 billion money laundering case short relative to the sums involved?

SINGAPORE – Six of the 10 foreigners arrested in the $3 billion money laundering case were recently sentenced to between 13 and 15 months in jail after pleading guilty to their offences in court.

Their sentences have been the subject of public discussion, with some questioning if their jail terms are short relative to the millions of dollars laundered in this case.

Two accused, Su Wenqiang and Wang Baosen, both 32, were deported to Cambodia on May 6 and banned from re-entering Singapore. With one-third remission, they served two-thirds, or about 8½ months, of their 13-month jail term.

Su Haijin, 41, and Su Baolin, 42, who were each given 14 months’ jail, are likely to be released by end May.

Zhang Ruijin, 45, who was handed 15 months’ jail – the highest jail term meted out so far – and Vang Shuiming, 42, who got 13 months and six weeks, will likely be out by June.

The cases of the remaining four suspects – Su Jianfeng, 36; Chen Qingyuan, 34; Wang Dehai, 35; and Lin Baoying, 44 – are pending.

The Straits Times spoke to legal experts and the lawyers who represented the suspects in court to understand the reasons behind their sentences.

1. Why did the prosecution ask for prison terms of between 12 and 16 months in the six cases?

The prosecution said in its sentencing submissions that a suitably lengthy custodial sentence must be meted out to deter criminals from money laundering offences, as they can undermine Singapore’s reputation as a legitimate financial hub while allowing criminals to enjoy their ill-gotten gains.

The prosecution raised similar aggravating factors for all six suspects.

First, their offences have a transnational element, which makes it more difficult for law enforcement agencies to detect and arrest them.

Of the 10 arrested in August 2023 in the anti-money laundering operation, several were involved in illegal gambling businesses abroad and brought suspected criminal proceeds into Singapore.

The substantial sums laundered were another aggravating factor.

Zhang laundered the most money, at $36 million, part of which was suspected to be benefits from falsifying accounts for his business in China.

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