It was long overdue. Finally in August, the Parliament amended Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act (TSOFA), enacted in 2002, to increase penalties for terrorism financing offences and bring it in line with the maximum fines for money laundering offences under Sections 46 and 47 of the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act, or CDSA.
As per TSOFA, it's an offence “to provide or collect property for terrorist acts, provide property and services for terrorist purposes, use or possess property for terrorist purposes, or deal with property of terrorists”. Earlier, the penalty for such offences was a fine not exceeding $100,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years, or both. After amendment, the maximum fine for these offences has been raised to $500,000 for individuals, and $1 million for entities. The maximum imprisonment term for such offences remains unchanged at 10 years.
Interestingly, S Iswaran, Second Minister for Home Affairs, who presented the amendment bill on the floor of the Parliament informed that there have not been any prosecution under TSOFA thus far. “This is because most cases involved terrorists who were self-financed, and the issue of third party financing did not arise,” he said.
The minister also noted concerns expressed by various MPs who asked “whether the penalty for terrorism financing offences should be set higher than that for money laundering offences, given the severity of terrorism acts”?
“The penalties for the terrorism financing offences are in line with those of other jurisdictions. For example, Canada, Hong Kong, Germany, Switzerland and United Kingdom, impose a maximum imprisonment term ranging from five years to 14 years. So there is a spectrum and we think ten years is a reasonable reference point at this stage,” Iswaran replied.
“I recognise the point that for corporations the sum of $1 million may not be significant. But I think we have to look at it in totality. Once an entity is the subject of such action, the reputational damage and limitations it will have on its operational capabilities, will also have a significant sobering effect. We have made this move to enhance the penalties significantly. We will monitor the effectiveness of these enhanced penalties and are not adverse to reviewing them if necessary,” he added.
On questions regarding Singapore having no comprehensive anti-terrorism law, Iswaran concluded, “We don't have any plans for such an act as yet. There are a range of acts and provisions across different legislations that enable us to act against terrorism. While this may not be elegant from legislation point of view, it gives us the flexibility to take calibrated and targeted action depending on the terror activities revealed. Having said that, I won't rule it out in future.”
Summary of amendments in TSOFA
US calls SG “inconsistent”; SG expresses “surprise and disappointment”
The US State Department in its annual country reports on terrorism published in May this year said, “In 2012, Singapore’s bilateral and multilateral engagement on counter-terrorism intelligence and law enforcement cooperation was inconsistent and marked by a transactional mindset that impeded the development of broad, deep, and predictable agency-to-agency relationships. While some agencies have had success from time to time, Singapore appeared to provide selective cooperation dependent upon the issue.” The report further adds, “Singapore is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering, a FATF-style regional body. There were no assets frozen or confiscated for terrorist finance-related crimes in 2012.” This attracted a strong rebuttal from the ministry of home affairs in Singapore government expressing “surprise and disappointment”. “The State Department has cast a negative light on Singapore’s bilateral and multilateral cooperation on counter-terrorism. We are of the view that the State Department’s report does not accurately describe the relations that we have with US agencies involved in counter-terrorism matters. It also shows a lack of understanding of Singapore’s deep commitment towards international cooperation against the threat of terrorism, whether at the bilateral or multilateral level, and not least on the intelligence and law enforcement front,” the ministry added.