1MDB probe: Former BSI Bank director Yvonne Seah sentenced to 2 weeks in prison

Yvonne Seah, 45, pleaded guilty to three of seven charges – one for failing to report suspicious transactions and two for forgery.

SINGAPORE: The second of two private bankers who managed Malaysian tycoon Low Taek Jho’s accounts at BSI Bank in Singapore was jailed for two weeks on Friday (Dec 16) for forgery.

Former BSI director Yvonne Seah Yew Foong was also ordered to pay a fine of S$10,000 for failing to report a series of suspicious transactions in which tens of millions were moved in and out of multiple accounts linked to Mr Jho Low.

Seah, 45, had pleaded guilty to three of seven charges – two for forging reference letters for Mr Jho Low without the bank’s approval and one for not reporting transactions potentially involving the proceeds of crime.

Mr Jho Low is a person of interest in Singapore’s money laundering probe into Malaysia’s scandal-hit state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

In October 2012, US$790.35 million was transferred out of 1MDB subsidiary 1MDB Energy (Langat). Two weeks later, US$110 million found its way into the Swiss bank account of Selune, a company owned by Mr Jho Low.

Prosecutors said the money had been moved through nine business and personal accounts in six local and foreign banks – including Standard Chartered Bank, Coutts and Falcon Private Bank – to mask the true source of the funds.

Seah became aware of Mr Jho Low’s suspicious transactions on Nov 20 but kept mum, even as BSI’s compliance department examined the transactions and remarked they were “nebulous to say the least and not acceptable”.

Seah also helped Mr Jho Low avoid scrutiny by forging reference letters to other banks in support of the genuineness of certain transactions and in two instances, vouching for the Low family’s net worth of US$1.63 billion, Seah’s letters claimed.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Nathaniel Khng said Mr Jho Low was BSI’s “most important client” and that keeping him happy was “crucial to the significant bonuses Seah earned” – S$4.1 million between 2010 and 2015.

DPP Khng called for a jail term of two weeks and a fine of S$12,000 for Seah. He urged the court to disregard Seah’s claim that she “found it practically impossible” to refuse her long-time boss Yak Yew Chee and to disobey her boss’ instructions – even if he asked her to commit a crime by signing off on the forged letters.

Yak was a managing director at BSI and Mr Jho Low’s personal banker. He was jailed 18 weeks and fined S$24,000 after he pleaded guilty to four charges last month.

Seah’s lawyer Peter Low argued his client’s involvement was “marginal, peripheral” and that a high fine would suffice.

Seah has already “suffered punishment in the form of significant mental anguish and emotional trauma” as a result of becoming “embroiled in the highly publicised, worldwide 1MDB scandal,” Mr Peter Low said. He added that Seah, who is married with two young children, suffers from depression.

Mr Peter Low also sought to paint Yak as a dominating superior who frequently criticised Seah’s work and “made chauvinistic, unnecessary and offensive remarks”. This made Seah afraid to refuse him when he asked her to co-sign the reference letters for Mr Jho Low, the lawyer said.

In sentencing Seah, District Judge Salina Ishak said the senior banker had abused her position of trust, and “abused the trust the world at large has come to place on bank documents”, referencing the forged letters.

“It is clear she sought to please Yak and benefited from (Mr Jho Low’s) business with the bank,” Judge Salina added.

Echoing Deputy Presiding Judge Jennifer Marie’s remarks in sentencing Yak last month, Judge Salina said confidence in Singapore’s banking and financial industry must be “zealously protected”.

“Bank officers should be seeking to safeguard (trust in the financial industry) and not succumb to greed and the lure of huge bonuses of the treachery of ‘important’ clients,” she said.

For forgery, Seah could have faced up to four years’ jail and a fine. For failing to report suspicious transactions, she could have been fined up to S$20,000.

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