Singapore's award-winning young entrepreneur, Tan Wee Beng, the Managing Director of the Wee Tiong Holdings, has been charged with falsifying documents to conceal transactions with North Korean companies.
The 43-year-old, who was an "entrepreneur of the year" by Ernst and Young, a global business consultancy, was also charged with alleged money laundering, financial conspiracy and bank fraud to favour North Korean entities by the U.S. Department of Treasury in 2018.
On June 19, Singapore Police Force, after investigation, also charged the Shipping manager of the company, Bong Hui Ping, for abetting Beng. The 38-year-old Malaysian woman aided Beng in falsifying documents with an intent to defraud. Beng could face hefty fine besides jail-time up to 10 years if proven guilty. Both are out on bail until the next hearing on July 17.
"The police take a serious view of persons who abuse Singapore's financial system and will not hesitate to take swift action against the individuals or parties involved," SPF said in a statement.
Beng, apart from featuring in the news for his sharp rise in the business world and owning several luxury sports cars, came into the light when the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) named him in the 'Most Wanted List' in 2018. The investigators said he used his companies in Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong as a front to provide shipping to North Korea using barges, tugboats and freight bumboats.
"Over several years, dating back to at least 2011, Tan Wee Beng and others in his company allegedly fulfilled millions of dollars in commodities contracts for North Korea," FBI said in a statement in 2018, adding that he was charged for violating International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).
Beng allegedly used his trading companies to conduct transactions on behalf of Daedong Credit Bank, a North Korean bank which is blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury Department and the UN, to evade sanctions. The agency also said that when Beng's wire transfers were rejected, his company and he arranged payments in bulk cash which was often hand-delivered by North Koreans to avoid regulatory scrutiny. His company allegedly sold sugar to North Korean companies between 2014-16 and completed business dealings worth $360,000.
North Korea has been facing stringent sanctions from the U.N., the U.S. and others for its nuclear weapons development program, violation of human rights and involving in arms trade. Beng, however, denied all allegations back in 2018 but agreed to cooperate with Singapore Police.
"The FBI nor the Singapore police have not called me. I found out only today through the internet. It came as a shock to me. We are an international trading company and not a front for laundering," he told the BBC.
In the past, two other Singapore nationals were found to have dealings with North Korea. Chong Hock Yen, director of three Singapore-based companies was charged with 43 counts of conspiracy. The 58-year-old allegedly supplied luxury goods worth $500,000 to North Korea. Ng Kheng Wah was the other Singaporean charged with the same offence.