Singapore sees surge in rich Russian interest

Kevin Brown
Financial Times

Singapore is attracting a surge of Russian investment as rich business people seek a politically stable home for their personal wealth as well as exposure to Asia’s rapid recovery from the global financial crisis.

Officials and bankers say significant sums have been deposited in the island state’s booming private banking sector, with Russian money also flowing into the stock market through investments in property and luxury services companies.

Michael Tay, a former Singapore ambassador to Moscow who now heads the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation secretariat, said in an interview with the Financial Times that some Russian shipping and IT companies were also considering listing in Singapore.

“They are exploring it, keeping the options open. Some of them are considering initial public offerings,” said Mr Tay, who since 2006 has run an annual forum in Singapore at which Russian business people can meet Singapore’s political and business leaders.

This year’s conference attracted several hundred Russians, including billionaire businessmen Araz Agalarov, a property developer, Roustam Tariko, head of Russian Standard Bank and owner of Russian Standard vodka, and Suleiman Kerimov, a parliamentary deputy whose wealth derives from holdings in Gazprom and Sberbank.

The growing interest of Russian investors in Singapore has been accompanied by a rise in trade which has made the city-state Russia’s 30th biggest trading partner, up from 40th in 2002. More than 5,000 Russians are resident in Singapore, compared with 300 six years ago.

“There are a lot of people with oil and gas money from Russia and Kazakhstan looking for opportunities to invest,” said a senior banker, who asked not to be named. “This is the personal wealth of Russian business people … looking for lucrative investment opportunities. Some of that is coming to Singapore.”

The increase in Russian interest in Singapore follows the abandonment of total banking secrecy in Switzerland under pressure from the US and European Union countries concerned it was being used to avoid taxes.

However, bankers said the Russian interest was driven less by tax and secrecy than by a desire for exposure to rapid Asian growth via Singapore’s politically stable and English-speaking financial community.

Switzerland and Singapore have both accepted exchange of information requirements drafted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that are intended to ensure that countries can pursue suspected tax avoiders in offshore jurisdictions.

Singapore’s parliament on Monday passed legislation incorporating the requirements in domestic law, and expects to qualify before the end of the year for inclusion on a “white list” of co-operating countries.

Global and regional banks are scrambling to expand their private banking operations in Asia, keen to win some of the wealth created by strong regional economic growth. Last week, Singapore’s OCBC bank beat HSBC of the UK to acquire the Asian private banking assetsof ING of the Netherlands for $1.4bn.

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