Money laundering case: President’s Challenge, ComChest got donations

Both organisations did not say who among the 10 charged in the case had donated the money.

Samuel Devaraj and Christine Tan

Samuel Devaraj and Christine Tan

The Straits Times


ComChest and the President's Challenge have since filed police reports and suspicious transaction reports. PHOTO: SINGAPORE POLICE FORCE/THE STRAITS TIMES

October 12, 2023

SINGAPORE – The Community Chest (ComChest) received $30,000 and the President’s Challenge got more than $350,000 from individuals whose names are similar to those of people charged in the $2.8 billion money laundering case.

Ms Charmaine Leung, managing director of ComChest, the philanthropy and engagement arm of the National Council of Social Service, told The Straits Times on Wednesday that ComChest has since filed police reports and suspicious transaction reports (STRs).

She added: “Donations that have been disbursed to benefiting agencies will not be affected. We are working closely with the Commissioner of Charities (COC) to determine how to treat the donations.”

ComChest was set up in 1983. It currently supports 100 social agencies and assists almost 100,000 people each year.

Similarly, a President’s Challenge spokesman said it has filed police reports and STRs, and donations already disbursed to benefiting agencies will not be affected.

The spokesman added that it was also working closely with the COC to determine how to treat the donations.

Both organisations did not say who among the 10 charged in the case had donated the money.

In Parliament on Oct 3, Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo said in her ministerial statement that some of those arrested had donated to charities here. She added that some of the charities had ring-fenced the money, while others had lodged police reports and planned to surrender the cash to the police.

ST reported on Sunday that various organisations had received money from some of the 10 accused in Singapore’s worst money laundering case and one of the world’s largest.

On Aug 15, more than 400 officers led by the Commercial Affairs Department raided locations including Tanglin, Bukit Timah, Orchard Road, Sentosa and River Valley.

Nine men and one woman, who were all originally from China, were charged the next day with offences including money laundering, forgery and resisting arrest.

Among the assets the authorities have taken control of are 152 properties and 62 vehicles with an estimated value of more than $1.24 billion, money in bank accounts amounting to more than $1.45 billion, and cash of various currencies worth more than $76 million.

On Aug 23, a President’s Challenge spokesman told ST it had received three cheques of $100,000 each from three individuals in 2020 whose names were similar to those of people who had been charged.

The spokesman said the cheques had come from Sian Chay Medical Institution, a social service agency, which had been donating to the President’s Challenge since 2018. It had no direct relations with the three donors, the spokesman said, and had received no further donations from them, adding that the donations were disbursed to its benefiting agencies in June 2021.

On Aug 24, Sian Chay said the cheques given to the President’s Challenge came from Cypriot national Su Haijin, 40, Cambodian national Su Baolin, 41, and Chinese national Zhang Ruijin, 44.

Sian Chay’s spokesman added that between 2020 and 2022, Su Haijin had donated an additional $101,000 in total to the organisation. He faces one charge of money laundering and another of resisting arrest.

Su Baolin, who faces two forgery charges, donated an additional $39,000 in total between 2021 and 2023.

Zhang Ruijin, who faces three forgery charges, donated an additional $12,000 in 2021.

ST’s report on Sunday said Lions Befrienders had received a $5,000 donation in 2022 from one of the 10, but declined to reveal the person’s name. It has filed a police report.

Hours after ST’s article was published, Rainbow Centre acknowledged it had received $72,450 from three of the 10 accused, and will be reviewing its policies.

It had received $30,000 from Turkish national Wang Shuiming, 42, also known as Vang Shuiming. He faces five charges – one over using a forged document and four over money laundering.

It also received $25,350 from Su Haijin, and $17,100 from Zhang Ruijin.

It said it began an internal investigation in August, and sought advice from the authorities on the donations while awaiting an official advisory from the COC.

A lawyer said charities that accept donations from dubious donors can face significant legal penalties, which may involve the freezing of their assets or confiscation of the illegal funds.

In May 2015, the COC published a guide for charities about money laundering and terrorism financing. It said although there has been little evidence local charities are exploited by money launderers or terrorist organisations, they are still vulnerable.

It added: “Such abuse cannot be tolerated and the impact of even one proven case will corrode public confidence in the affected charity and the entire sector.”

The COC encouraged charities to have vigorous financial controls in place, and to be transparent in their activities in order to protect themselves.

The publication listed some money laundering red flags. These included donors who provide insufficient information; many fund transfers made in small amounts to avoid being noticed; corporate donations made from a personal account; and donations which do not seem to match the donor’s known income.

Mr Robin Lee, chief executive officer of Food from the Heart (FFTH), said that it had not received donations from the 10 accused.

When FFTH receives donations of more than $20,000, be it in one transaction or several transactions within a month, its fund-raising staff check and verify the donors’ backgrounds, he added.

A spokesman for Habitat for Humanity Singapore said that when the case broke, the team checked through donations from the last six years. At present, it has not found any donations connected to the case.

Ms Nichol Ng, Food Bank Singapore’s co-founder, said it was challenging for charities to scrutinise every donor due to manpower shortages in daily operations.

She added that, with obligations under the Personal Data Protection Act, their hands may be tied when asking donors about their backgrounds.

Mr Abhimanyau Pal, the chief executive officer of another charity, SPD, said: “We hope that recent reports on money laundering activities and the prevalence of scams will not discourage the public from continuing to donate to legitimate causes and charities, which rely on the contributions o

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