So, Singapore wants to be a ‘must’ for F1. Becoming secret bank center a good start

Two different stories today. One is that Singapore officials are intent on making the race an “absolute must.” The other? That Singapore is fast replacing Switzerland as a center for secret banking.

Do I need to take the next step and tie these together for you, or is it already pretty clear?

First, the “absolute must” story, via Autosport:

The short-term ambition is for Singapore to have its race viewed as as essential to the calendar as traditional events like Monaco, Italy and Britain.

Michael Roche, the executive director of the Singapore Grand Prix, told AUTOSPORT in an exclusive interview at the Marina Bay circuit: “I want to see this race institutionalised – so that we are a Monaco, and an absolute must for Formula 1.

“We got very flattered in recent years when people used terms like ‘a Jewel in the Crown’ or the ‘Monaco of the East’ and things like that – but you cannot be complacent about it. You are only as good as yesterday gave you.

“It needs to get to a sustainable level, and you will never get it totally on autopilot, but does the government then want to lock down its city every single year?”

And now the other half, which is — yes — via everyone’s favorite U.S. news source (that’s the NY Times, if you haven’t followed previous posts that mention it):

For centuries, Switzerland has been the sanctuary of choice for wealthy people seeking to hide their fortunes and evade taxes. Now, amid a growing crackdown on Swiss private banking, the rich are flocking to Singapore and Hong Kong, which still offer some of the world’s most secret accounts.


Reuven S. Avi-Yonah, director of the international tax program at the University of Michigan Law School, called the two Asian locales “the new alternative” to Swiss bank secrecy after the shackles placed on UBS by the United States last year.

UBS, the largest bank in Switzerland, has lost an estimated 200 billion Swiss francs, or about $200 billion, in assets from private banking clients over the last two years. But in Asia, it has won more new money than it has lost, according to an August presentation to investors by the bank’s chief executive of wealth management, Jürg Zeltner.

The bank would not give actual figures. But it did say it was planning to hire an additional 400 “client advisers,” or private bankers, for its Asia-Pacific region, on top of the current 867.

In February, UBS raised bonuses for Singapore bankers who bring in new clients. The Singapore government is one of the bank’s biggest shareholders, with about 9 percent, since diluted, bought in late 2007.


Richard Murphy, a founder of the Tax Justice Network, a British research firm focused on offshore havens, said that amid the changes, “Singapore is where the Swiss can now find the banking secrecy they’ve lost at home.”

Hong Kong, he said, is a close second.

Critics, including Mr. Murphy, point to Singapore’s Swiss-style secrecy provisions; lack of taxes on capital gains and most foreign dividends; and system that allows depositors to open accounts in the guise of corporations, trusts and limited liability companies.

I couldn’t help but be tickled by the juxtaposition of the business story with the race this weekend. With countless rumors about how Formula 1 can act as a way to move suspect money around, plus the sport’s stereotype of being a playground for the uber rich and famous, the threads almost weave themselves. It’s like a match made in monetary heaven.

Now, keep in mind, I say I’m “tickled” by this. I’m finding it humorous, and I’m in no way meaning that somehow Singapore’s rise as a Swiss-alternative has anything to do with Formula 1 choosing it as a venue. But I would suspect that there is a strata of people who use secret bank accounts who also run in F1 circles. So, did some bloke one day over cigars and brandy tell his buddy Bernie: “Eh, you should check out Singapore sometime. I was just there last week, and it’s an amazing city”? It seems conceivable, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s how things work.

And I don’t mean to suggest that having a secret banking system will keep F1 in the city. But you have to admit it certainly fits the preconceived notion of what F1 is all about, right?

Mostly this was a combination of stories I couldn’t help but note for you, and it was one slightly different way to highlight the “absolute must” story from today. You are welcome (as always) to take it or leave it.

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