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Superhacker’s Arrest in Singapore Raises Uncomfortable Questions for the City-State

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Before he was arrested this month for allegedly running what’s likely the world’s largest cybercrime computer network, Wang YunHe enjoyed a lavish lifestyle in Singapore.

He held a bank account in the city-state, was a director of several local companies and lived in a multi-million-dollar apartment overlooking a premier shopping district, according to an indictment and local filings. All the while, the 35-year-old Chinese national was amassing riches by offering cybercriminals access to millions of infected devices for a fee, the U.S. Justice Department said.

The case is putting a fresh spotlight on the challenges of policing the influx of foreign wealth into Singapore, less than a year after 10 people of Chinese origin were charged in the nation’s biggest money-laundering scandal.

While Wang is accused of a different set of crimes to the remote-gambling ring that was taken down last year, the alleged modus operandi is similar. He set up companies in Singapore that had local citizens serving as directors or corporate secretaries. Besides properties accumulated in the city-state, Thailand, Dubai and the U.S., authorities are also seeking to seize cryptocurrency, watches and luxury cars.

Read More: A Wave of Scandals Is Testing the Singaporean Government’s Ability to Take Criticism

The revelations are a reminder of the difficult balancing act faced by Singapore and other financial hubs as they push to attract the world’s ultra rich. That drive has helped turn Singapore into a premier wealth management center, yet it has also been accompanied by a string of scandals in recent years—along with vows from authorities to step up oversight.

Wang was arrested in Singapore at his home on May 24. He is charged among other things with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering, according to the DOJ. If convicted on all counts, Wang faces a maximum penalty of 65 years in prison.

The charges against Wang are for allegedly deploying malware, and creating and operating a residential proxy service known as “911 S5”, a botnet that facilitated cyber-attacks, large-scale fraud, child exploitation, harassment, bomb threats, and export violations, according to the DOJ.

The Singapore police and attorney-general’s chambers have been working with the DOJ and Federal Bureau of Investigation since August 2022, according to a statement from the city-state’s police. The police launched an operation to arrest Wang, following an extradition request from the U.S. The multiagency effort also included law enforcement in Thailand and Germany, according to the DOJ.

Wang, who is also a citizen of St. Kitts and Nevis, has a Singapore work visa, according to local filings obtained by Bloomberg. His 215-square-meter (2,314-square-foot) apartment in the Orchard Road district was bought in his name in 2021 for S$9.36 million ($6.9 million), other local filings show. 

Security at Wang’s condo said no one was home on the evening of May 30 in Singapore. The Singapore police said it is unable to disclose further information on the status of Wang’s assets as the matter is now before court.

‘From a screenplay’

“The conduct alleged here reads like it’s ripped from a screenplay,” said Assistant Secretary for Export Enforcement Matthew S. Axelrod of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security in the statement Wednesday, adding that Wang splurged from nearly $100 million in gains from the criminal enterprise. Now, the U.S. is going after these assets.

In Singapore, U.S. authorities are seeking possession of the Orchard Road apartment as well as his locally-registered 2022 Ferrari F8 Spider.

Wang held a bank account with Citigroup Inc. in Singapore under his name, according to the indictment. In addition, there were accounts with Malaysia’s CIMB Group Holdings Bhd. denominated in U.S. dollars and Singapore dollars, as well as multiple bank accounts in Thailand and with a U.S. lender, held either under his name or other entities and associates.

Citi declined to comment on the case via a spokesperson. The lender “is committed to the fight against any activity that undermines the financial system, and we will extend our cooperation to the authorities,” the spokesperson added. A Singapore-based CIMB spokesperson said the bank does not comment on individuals and ongoing investigations, adding that it is “fully committed to strong corporate governance and strict compliance with banking standards, laws and regulations.”

Wang operated under multiple aliases including Jack Wan, Jack Wang and Tom Long, according to the indictment.

One of his now-defunct companies, Eternal Code Pte., was a wholesaler of computer software, according to Singapore’s company registry. It hired directors who held roles in dozens of other companies. None of these company officials has been accused of any wrongdoing.

He also directed two other firms, with addresses listed at a prime office complex in the Central Business District. Its premises was occupied by another company, Leeden Capital Pte., during a recent visit. Two employees affiliated with Leeden said they were not associated to Wang and do not know his whereabouts.

Singapore faced a test to its reputation as a premier financial hub last year after the arrest of Chinese-born individuals who were accused of using ill-gotten gains from remote gambling businesses to fund extravagant lifestyles. The Monetary Authority of Singapore said in July it will boost surveillance and safeguards against laundering risks in the family office space.

Before this case, Singapore was also rocked by scandals involving huge money flows from Malaysia’s state fund 1MDB and German firm Wirecard AG. The blow-ups have led to financiers being banned, people jailed and banks slapped with fines for poor internal controls.

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