Reply to Parliamentary Question on securities fraud investigations
QUESTION NO. 707
NOTICE PAPER NO. 401 OF 2016
FOR WRITTEN ANSWER
Date: For Parliament Sitting on 08 November 2016
Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament
Mr Leon Perera, Non-Constituency Member of Parliament
To ask the Prime Minister in light of the securities fraud investigations relating to the "penny stock" case which have been ongoing for several years (a) how robust are Singapore's safeguards against such cases of fraud; and (b) how does the Commercial Affairs Department compare to equivalent bodies in other developed countries in terms of the level of staffing and resources devoted to detecting and investigating securities fraud.
Answer by Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister in charge of MAS:
1 Singapore has robust safeguards against attempts to manipulate or rig our capital markets. There are strict rules in place and our regulatory regime against market misconduct is comparable to those in other developed markets. But it is not possible to have safeguards that can prevent all misconduct, which is why we have an effective enforcement regime to ensure that any market misconduct is swiftly detected, thoroughly investigated, and firmly dealt with. In the most recent Financial Sector Assessment Report on Singapore, the International Monetary Fund rated our regime very favourably.
2 The Singapore Exchange (SGX), MAS and CAD work closely together in investigating suspected fraud in our capital markets and taking enforcement actions. SGX is the frontline supervisor. It monitors trading activities and conducts preliminary assessments of possible market misconduct, using electronic surveillance systems. SGX recently enhanced its “Trade With Caution” alerts by providing investors more detailed information on unusual trading activities. Such alerts serve to disrupt at an early stage any efforts at market manipulation by those who may be responsible for the unusual trading activities.
3 Besides referrals from SGX, MAS and CAD also receive market intelligence on suspected misconduct from interactions with financial institutions and market participants, suspicious transaction reports lodged with CAD, and public feedback.
4 MAS and CAD conduct joint investigations on securities market misconduct such as insider trading and market manipulation. This close inter-agency cooperation leverages MAS’ expertise in financial markets and CAD’s experience in investigating financial crime. MAS and CAD are continually enhancing their enforcement capabilities to detect and investigate market abuse and misconduct, including the use of data analytics and digital forensics.
5 MAS and CAD have also taken tough enforcement actions to deter securities fraud. Between 2011 and 2015, MAS took 21 civil penalty actions against market misconduct offences under the Securities and Futures Act. Over the same period, CAD prosecuted a total of 34 persons for false trading and other serious market misconduct.
6 Given the complexity of most instances of securities market fraud, investigations take time. The amount of evidence that needs to be gathered and analysed.such as bank accounts and transactions, is typically large. If suspects and witnesses are not available or uncooperative, it adds to the length of investigations. These are challenges that cannot be directly addressed by merely increasing resources.
7 The resources that Singapore has devoted to investigating market misconduct offences are commensurate with the market capitalisation and number of listed companies in our securities market, and comparable with other developed markets such as Hong Kong and Australia. More important than the numbers is the quality and type of resources we have to detect and investigate capital market crimes. The approach taken by CAD and MAS is to focus on having dedicated units equipped with specialised skillsets that look into securities fraud-related crimes, and to continually deepen expertise and capabilities.