Recent amendments to the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act (Cap. 65A) (the “CDSA”) took effect  on 1 April 2019. In general, the amendments increase the penalties (i.e., the quantum of fines and in some cases, the imposition of custodial sentences) across the board for offences under the CDSA.

The amendments to the CDSA were passed by Parliament on 19 November 2018 and assented to by the President on 21 December 2018 through the Serious Crimes and Counter-Terrorism (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act 2018 (No. 51 of 2018). The amendments took effect from 1 April 2019. The changes include:

  1. increased penalties for failing to file a Suspicious Transaction Report (“STR”) under section 39;
  2. increased penalties for assisting another to retain benefits of drug dealing or from criminal conduct under sections 43 and 44;
  3. increased penalties for companies acquiring, possessing, using, concealing or transferring benefits of drug dealing or from criminal conduct under sections 46 and 47;
  4. a new offence of possessing or using property reasonably suspected to be benefits of drug dealing or from criminal conduct under section 47AA;
  5. removal of the need for the prosecution to prove the particulars of foreign drug dealing offences or foreign serious offences under section 47A; and
  6. increased penalties for the offence of tipping off under section 48.

What is the new development?

I. Failing to file a STR (s 39 CDSA)

Under section 39 of the CDSA, a person (including a company) has an obligation to disclose knowledge or suspicion of any property used, or intended to be used, in connection with any act which may constitute drug dealing or criminal conduct to a Suspicious Transaction Reporting Officer as soon as reasonably practicable.

Previously, the punishment for contravention of this provision is that of a fine not exceeding SGD 20,000. It has now increased to:

  1. a fine not exceeding SGD 250,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or to both, if the person is an individual; or
  2. to a fine not exceeding SGD 500,000 (at s 39(2)), if the person is not an individual.

II. Assisting another to retain benefits of drug dealing or from criminal conduct (s 43 and s 44 CDSA)

It is an offence for any person to enter into or be concerned in an arrangement knowing or having reasonable grounds to believe that, by the arrangement, the benefits of drug dealing or from criminal conduct might be retained, or those benefits of drug dealing or from criminal conduct are used to secure funds or acquire property for the other person (s 43(1) and s 44(1) CDSA).

With effect from 1 April 2019, penalties for companies assisting another to retain benefits of drug dealing, and assisting another to retain benefits from criminal conduct have increased from a fine not exceeding SGD 1 million, to a fine not exceeding SGD 1 million or twice the value of the benefits of drug dealing or from criminal conduct in respect of which the offence was committed, whichever is higher (at s 43(5)(b) and s 44(5)(b)).

III. Acquiring, possessing, using, concealing or transferring benefits of drug dealing or from criminal conduct (s 46 and s 47 CDSA)

It is an offence for any person to conceal or disguise, convert or transfer, acquire, possess or use any property that represents the benefits of drug dealing or from criminal conduct (s 46(1) CDSA and s 47(1) CDSA). It is also an offence to do the aforementioned when the person has knowledge or reasonable grounds to believe that the property represents the benefits of drug dealing or from criminal conduct (s 46(2), (3) and s 47(2), (3) CDSA).

With effect from 1 April 2019, penalties for companies acquiring, possessing, using, concealing or transferring benefits of drug dealing or from criminal conduct (or doing so while having knowledge or reasonable belief) have increased from a fine not exceeding SGD 1 million to a fine not exceeding SGD 1 million or twice the value of the benefits of drug dealing or from criminal conduct in respect of which the offence was committed, whichever is higher (at s 46(6)(b) and s 47(6)(b)).

IV. Penalties for possessing or using property reasonably suspected to be benefits of drug dealing or from criminal conduct (s 47AA CDSA)

A new s 47AA was added to the CDSA, which states that it is an offence to possess or use any property that may be reasonably suspected of being or representing, any benefits of drug dealing or from criminal conduct if the person fails to account satisfactorily how the person came by the property (at s 47AA(1)).

Persons who commit this offence shall be liable to:

  1. a fine not exceeding SGD 150,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or to both, if the person is an individual; or
  2. a fine not exceeding SGD 300,000 (at s 47AA(2)), if the person is not an individual.

V. It is no longer necessary for the prosecution to prove the particulars of foreign drug dealing offences or foreign serious offences (s 47A CDSA)

A new s 47A(3) was added to the CDSA, which provides that where the prosecution adduces some evidence that doing or being concerned in the act satisfied every element of a foreign drug dealing offence or foreign serious offence (“serious offence” is defined under the Second Schedule of the CDSA to include bribery), it is presumed until the contrary is proved, that the act constitutes that foreign drug dealing offence or foreign serious offence.

VI. Tipping off (s 48 CDSA)

When a person knows or has reasonable grounds to suspect that an authorized officer is acting in connection with an investigation, it is an offence to disclose to any other person information which is likely to prejudice such investigation (s 48 CDSA).

With effect from 1 April 2019, the monetary limit for fines imposed for offences under s 48 has increased from SGD 30,000 to SGD 250,000 (s 48(1), (2) CDSA).

In general, the amendments to the CDSA do not add or impose additional obligations on companies to comply with the law. The amendments simply increase the overall penalties for offences committed pursuant to the CDSA. However, there is now a clear distinction between the fines imposed on an individual and the fines imposed on a company, and in some cases the difference is substantial as the quantum of fines for companies are much higher. Companies should constantly evaluate their compliance policies and ensure that they are robust so that they do not fall foul of the law.