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     FrontPage Edition: Fri 2 February 2007

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10,221 reported cases of loan shark harassment activities in 2006

Source: www.mha.gov.sg

Oral Answer to Parliamentary Question on the activities of loan sharks, 23 January 2007

Mr Wee Siew Kim:
To ask the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs if he will update the House on the activities of loan sharks, including

(i) the number of police reports on harassment by loan sharks made by family members, neighbours and wrongly identified neighbours of debtors in the last 12 months;

(ii) the trend of loan sharking and harassment activities over the last 3 years;

(iii) the enforcement measures taken by the police in curbing illegal lending activities and harassment;

(iv) the current procedures, deterrent measures and penalties for these criminals; and

(v) the success rate of the police over the last 3 years and the expectations of the police force on future trends in this area of crime.

Assoc Prof Ho Peng Kee:

In 2006, there were 10,221 reported cases of unlicensed moneylending (UML) harassment activities.
This is an increase of 19%, compared with the corresponding period in 2005 when there were 8,568 reported cases. Similarly, the 2005 figures represent a 47% increase over 2004, which had 5,809 reported cases.
UML syndicates of today are becoming more elusive in their operations. In their bid to avoid detection and arrest by the authorities, they use technology and capitalise on electronic banking facilities to achieve "virtual" transactions, not only with their borrowers/debtors but also between syndicate members.
By making use of the bank accounts and telephone numbers of desperate debtors, they are able to conceal their own identities.
Taking cognizance of this trend, Police has committed significant manpower for intelligence gathering, investigation and enforcement against these UML operators.
At the same time, Police adopts a holistic approach in combating the UML situation in Singapore.
Let me provide an overview of the measures we have adopted as part of a comprehensive plan to combat UML activities in Singapore.
a) Enhancing penalties in the Moneylenders Act
The penalties set out in the Moneylenders Act were enhanced effective from 1 Jan last year, to double the fines and imprisonment terms for first-time offenders of unlicensed moneylending. For repeat offenders, imprisonment was made mandatory.
In harassment cases, caning was introduced for offenders who commit damage to property1 during the course of harassment. Repeat offenders of harassment were made subject to mandatory caning when, hurt to person or damage to property is caused.
b) Confiscation of Assets of UML Syndicates
Secondly, two offences2 under the Moneylenders Act have been gazetted as predicate offences under Schedule 2 of the Corruption, Drugs Trafficking & Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act, or CDSA in short, on 9 Sep 05.
In this way, unlicensed moneylenders who have been charged and convicted in court for these offences, may have their assets seized and confiscated.
The prospect of seizure and confiscation of the assets of illegal moneylenders and their syndicate leaders would make UML more unprofitable and unattractive.
c) Use of CL(TP) Act against syndicate members
Thirdly, Police has invoked the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act to deal with the members of these syndicated UML operations, whenever necessary.
d) Formation of the Anti-UML Task Force (AUML TF)
Fourthly, at the enforcement front, Police formed a dedicated Anti-Unlicensed Moneylending Task Force (AUML TF) in the Criminal Investigations Department in Jul 2005 to take a more focused approach against unlicensed moneylending syndicates instead of leaving it to individual Divisions to tackle the problem.
In 2006, a total of 168 ambush operations and 9 intelligence-led operations were conducted against UML activities.
Apart from dealing with UML members, the Task Force is also on the look out for errant debtors who end up assisting or abetting UML activities.
These acts of abetment include offering their bank accounts to UML operators, or registering for prepaid SIM cards or other communication lines in their names for use by UML operators.
Debtors who take loans from UML syndicates and subsequently sell their property to innocent victims without changing their address, can be charged for offences under the National Registration Act.
e) Cancellation of the passports of known UML syndicate members
Next, let me touch on the passport cancellation policy against ex-UML syndicate leaders, which came into effect on 1 Sep 05. By curbing their ability to travel overseas, ex-UML syndicate leaders are prevented from continuing to operate their UML businesses from abroad after their release from prison.
As at Dec 06, 28 passports have been cancelled. These ex-syndicate leaders would be subjected to a 10-year travel ban commencing from the date of their release from prison or, for those who have been fined only, the date of their conviction.
f) Installation of CCTVs to deter UML runners from harassing debtors
Another initiative is the collaboration between Police and the Town Councils to install more CCTVs for general crime prevention which also serve to deter and prevent UML harassment activities.
g) Collaborative efforts with other agencies
Lastly, as part of the comprehensive approach in dealing with this problem, Police has been engaging various external agencies, such as the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS), local banks, SingPost, HDB and IRAS to tackle the UML situation from different fronts, by tightening up on procedures and policies to limit the opportunity for exploitation by UML syndicates.
Mr Wee also asks about the current procedures in dealing with these UML cases. Presently, upon receiving a report of harassment by unlicensed moneylenders, uniformed police officers will be deployed to perform on-scene investigation.
Officers will take photographs of the scene, and record statements and particulars of the witnesses, victims and the alleged borrower, if they are present.
Officers will also obtain important evidence such as debtor's notes and contact numbers, and pass these onto the Anti-UML Task Force, which will carry out further in-depth investigation, gather intelligence and mount operations against UML syndicates.
As for the success rate in tackling illegal moneylending, let me assure the House that Police is keeping to a very high tempo in its anti-UML enforcement efforts.
Due to the secretive nature of the current modus operandi of UML syndicates, extensive intelligence gathering and investigation are needed before we can arrest the perpetrators and bring down the syndicate. It therefore takes time for these efforts to bear fruit.
We have, however, managed to achieve some measure of success in dealing with UML syndicates.
In 2006, 294 persons were arrested for UML offences and related harassment activities. This is an increase of 11% as compared to 2005 . In 2006, Police also dealt with 39 UML syndicate members under the CL(TP) Act, which is an increase of 63% compared to 24 in 20053. In addition, Police smashed 8 syndicates last year4 .
Police will continue to closely monitor the unlawful moneylending situation, partnering the relevant agencies and members of public to holistically combat the UML problem.
Footnotes:
1Caning was already available for those who cause harm to others in the course of harassment.

2The two offences are carrying on a business of Moneylending without a Licence under Section 8(1)(b) of the Moneylenders Act (including abetment); and Harassing Debtor Besetting His Residence under Section 33 of the Moneylenders Act (including abetment).

3The arrest figure of 265 persons in 2005 was 32.6% lower than that of 393 persons in 2004 over the same period.

4In 2005, 1 syndicate was smashed (note : the Anti-UML Taskforce was only started in Jul 05)

Source: www.mha.gov.sg News Release 23 Jan 2007

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