Scream An interesting frontpage report in today’s TODAY reminded me of two earlier posts from Oct 2006, Singapore – A safe haven for the rich & crooked AND Funds parked in Singapore belongs mainly to embezzlers………..

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Art ‘fortress’ in Singapore

Republic offers safe haven for world’s collectors with high-tech storage centre

Tuesday • November 28, 2006

Clement Mesenas and Derrick A Paulo
clement@mediacorp.com.sg

SINGAPORE is not counted among the art capitals of the world, but it could soon be home to some of the rarest and most valuable treasures on the planet.

These art masterpieces, though, will not be for public viewing. They will stashed here for safekeeping as the Republic makes its entry into the exotic, multi-billion-dollar business of art repositories or warehouses.

In doing so, it will take its first slice of the pie away from Switzerland, where most of the world’s art treasures have traditionally been kept in secret vaults. But changing laws in Switzerland no longer suit the owners of these pieces, who prefer to keep their acquisitions confidential and low profile.

Singapore is stepping in to fill this void.

Today understands that a high-security Fort Knox type building is to be built near Changi International Airport to house the artefacts and paintings — a trove estimated to be worth $15 billion.

A high-tech system of electronic surveillance will ensure that no outsider gains entry into the building, except, of course, the owners of the works of art.

There will be reinforced walls, strong rooms and vaults, while two of the lower floors of the three-story building will be windowless, sources told Today.

The facility, scheduled to be built within 12 months, will be operated by The Singapore Freeport, a company set up in June with the support of the Government.

Checks by Today revealed that the business is jointly owned by a Swiss company, the National Arts Council, the National Heritage Board and venture capitalist Alain Vandenborre, a Belgian-turned-Singapore citizen.

The two statutory boards — which own 100,000 shares combined, or 5 per cent each, with an NAC director appointed as one of the company’s seven directors — told Today: “Details will be provided when plans are finalised”.

The Swiss partner, Natural Le Coultre (NLC), will be the majority shareholder. In an email to this newspaper, one of the company’s representatives Yves Bouvier — also a director with The Singapore Freeport — said: “The art market is booming in Asia. NLC therefore intends to expand its Swiss concept into Singapore.

“Like Switzerland, Singapore is both ideally located and politically stable.”

The Swiss company is well-established in the storage and movement of art. But the introduction last year of tough new Swiss laws, in line with a Unesco convention on cultural property that Switzerland signed in 2003, has made the movement of art pieces, especially those that might be considered “cultural heritage”, subject to strict checks.

Switzerland has said that it intends to crack down on the illicit movement of cultural property.

The checks are especially tough on those engaged in the art trade and auction business where due diligence to prove ownership of the art works is essential.

New art owners, wealthy Arabs among them — perhaps represented by institutional players — are said to be searching for new havens to which they can send their treasures for safekeeping, an art dealer told Today.

Auction houses could also be potential clients.

In fact, a study is being made into the possible inclusion of a Customs checkpoint at the 150,000-sq-ft facility to provide it with the status of a duty-free zone, in the footsteps of the 16 freeports in Switzerland, where goods may remain in transit between customs areas without any duty being payable on them.

A Singapore Customs spokesperson told Today it has no knowledge of this mechanism but pointed out two existing duty or tax-exempt storage schemes for traders.

One is the Licensed Warehouse, which is a designated area approved and licensed by Customs for storing dutiable goods, namely liquor, tobacco, motor vehicles and petroleum, with the Duty and Goods and Services Tax (GST) suspended.

The other is the Zero GST Warehouse Scheme, which came into effect this year, and which can be used to warehouse any goods except dutiable goods, locally acquired or locally manufactured goods, and GST-paid goods. The trader can keep the goods in the storage facility for an indefinite period of time, but the designated premises must be a physically secured.

In any case, the $15 billion worth of art headed for Singapore, which withdrew from Unesco in 1985, is just a drop in the proverbial ocean. Switzerland has long been a safe haven for art treasures and artefacts — including art plundered by the Nazi occupation of Europe — worth trillions of dollars.

More recently, the invasion of Iraq resulted in the disappearance in April 2003 of some 11,000 rare cultural artefacts from the Iraqi National Museum.

The viability of the art storage business can be gauged from the fact that there are close to 900 such facilities in Switzerland.

So, will the Singapore facility yet prove to be the start of a lucrative enterprise?

Currently, Singapore has some experience in the storage and conservation of artefacts with the construction of the purpose-built Heritage Conservation Centre in Jurong, which manages and conserves the collections of the museums of the National Heritage. Visitors can get a glimpse of these artefacts on Wednesdays.

At the Singapore Freeport facility, though, entry will be restricted to owners and potential buyers, who will be able to enjoy, perhaps, a Picasso or a Rodin in the comfortable privacy of special viewing rooms.

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I couldn’t help but wonder if we’re fast becoming a safe haven (if we’re not one already) for the rich & crooked and other criminal elements to launder and/or stash their money. All in the name of business. Just business. Hmmm…….

And on a related note, here’s another report by TEMPO …….

Indonesians Buy Most Apartments in Singapore
Monday, 27 November, 2006

TEMPO Interactive, Jakarta : Purchase of apartments in Singapore by Indonesian citizens between 2003 and 2005 continues to rise.

In 2003, Indonesians bought as many as 500 apartments in Singapore and in 2004 the number rose to 600.

The amount rose again in 2005 to 830 apartments, or an average19.44 percent increase in those two years.

Quoting data from the Real Estate Information System (Singapore’s property statistics agency), Anton Sitorus, Research Head of Jones Lang Lasalle Indonesia, explained the total of apartment sales in Singapore to foreign citizens during that period reached 7,400 units and 1,930 out of these were by Indonesian citizens.

“Indonesian people are already regarded as very potential buyers. Thus (foreign property) exhibitions are often held here (Jakarta),” Anton told Tempo yesterday (26/11).

“The second most buyers come from Malaysia.”

Survey results show that most Indonesians buy upper class apartments at prices of Sin$1,115 (around Rp6.6 million) per square meter.

The remainder are middle and lower class apartments costing between Sin$465 and Sin$750 (Rp2.7 million to Rp4.4 million) per square meter.

According to Anton, the tendency of property purchase in Singapore by Indonesians has been rising sharply since 1998, when the economic crisis hit Indonesia.

“Many people, especially those of Chinese descent, joined in the exodus to Singapore after the rioting in Jakarta,” he said.

Regulations in Singapore’s property sector is also beneficial for investors.

Anton cited the right of use for foreigners in Singapore can reach 99 years, while in Indonesia it is only 25 years.

Harun Mahbub

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