Banks in Singapore are urgently scrutinizing their account holders as an imminent deadline on stricter tax evasion measures forces them to decide whether to send some of their wealthiest clients packing.
The Southeast Asian city-state has grown into the world's fourth-biggest offshore financial center but, with U.S. and European regulators on the hunt for tax cheats, the government is clamping down to forestall the kind of onslaught from foreign authorities that is now hitting Switzerland's banks.
Before July 1, all financial institutions in Singapore must identify accounts they strongly suspect hold proceeds of fraudulent or wilful tax evasion and, where necessary, close them. After that, handling the proceeds of tax crimes will be a criminal offence under changes to the city-state's anti-money laundering law.
"Because of banking secrecy, Singapore used to be an attractive place to put money if you didn't want the authorities back home to know about it," said Erik Wilgenhof Plante, head of compliance at Germany's DZ Privatbank in Singapore.
"That has left legacy problems for some banks."
Singapore officials have said the city-state's secrecy rules were aimed at safeguarding investors' legitimate interest in privacy and did not mean it was a haven for illicit funds. The tighter rules are intended to fall in line with new global standards announced last year that treat tax crimes as a money-laundering offence.