Yeo Jiawei's Ex-BSI Boss Describes 1MDB Kickbacks, Lavish Lifestyle, Cover-Up

Yeo Jiawei, Kevin Swampillai, BSI, 1MDB, trial, Singapore

Former BSI banker Yeo Jiawei's boss was the first witness to testify against him in a 1MDB money-laundering trial, describing clandestine efforts to mislead investigators and cover up million-dollar kickbacks.

Yeo Jiawei is the first of several former BSI, or Banca della Svizzera Italiana, bankers to go on trial for their dealings with the Malaysian state fund which has already shut down two Swiss banks in Singapore – BSI and Falcon Private Bank.

On Tuesday, Yeo's former boss at BSI, Kevin Swampillai, detailed efforts to conceal millions that the two men received in kickbacks and rewards for structures and arrangements for BSI clients, according to local press reports.

Swampillai described how he and Yeo used fictitious names, pre-paid SIM cards and coded language on instant messaging services WhatsApp and Telegram once they realized that investigators were homing in on their ill-gotten gains.

«Pinged Him in the Morning»

"If I pinged him in the morning, and he didn't respond, that would be a sign that he had been picked up by the Commercial Affairs Department,"  said Swampillai, who is now unemployed and not been charged. He admitted receiving about S$6.95 million in secret profits from a 1MDB-related transaction. 

Swampillai praised Yeo even as he testified against him, highlighting how the state will use bankers against one another in prosecuting the 1MDB money trail. Prosecutors believe that billions were pilfered from 1MDB, filtered through Swiss banks in Singapore, and spent on everything from luxury real estate to producing the award-winning film «The Wolf of Wall Street».

Yeo was referred to as «James» after leaving BSI in 2014 – and began working directly for Jho Low, the trial revealed. Investigators believe Low, a Malaysian businessman and associate of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak,  is one of the masterminds of the fraud. 

Yeo reveled in Low's high-flying lifestyle, including attending a Las Vegas boxing match or flying in Low's private jet, Swampillai said.

Middleman's Kickbacks

The prosecution alleges that Yeo accumulated more than $26 million from dealing with 1MDB, in part by acting as a middleman. 

«We would find an intermediary who would be used to identify certain funds, and have conversations with the funds about the nature of underlying transactions that would take place, and the kind of fees that the fund would earn.»

«We were trying to find a margin between what the bank earned, what the fund managers earned, and create a margin that would be paid to Yeo and myself.»

Yeo Faces Jail Time

Prosecutors in Switzerland, the U.S., Singapore and Luxembourg are looking into 1MBD's missing billions, but the issue has barely caused a ripple in Malaysian politics, where Najib has quelled investigations.

Najib isn't named in U.S. documents on 1MDB by name, but several characteristics would indicate he is identified as «Malaysian Official Number One».

In Singapore, Yeo faces 11 charges, including money-laundering and witness-tampering. He faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty of money laundering, while witness-tampering could get him another up to seven years jail time.

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