The Moneylenders Act – Purpose and Legislative Intent
The MLA was enacted in Singapore in 1936 as the Moneylenders Ordinance (Cap 193, 1936 Ed) and was modelled upon the English Moneylenders Acts of 1900 (63 & 64 Vict, c 51) (UK) and 1927 (17 & 18 Geo. 5, c 21) (UK). In Litchfield v Dreyfus  1 KB 584, Farwell J observed that the object of the English legislation was intended “to save the foolish from the extortion of a certain class of the community who are called money-lenders as an offensive term”.
These comments echo the views which the English Select Committee took into account when enacting the English Money-lenders Act 1900. The Crowther Committee’s Report on Consumer Credit (Cmnd 4596, 1971) at para 2.1.22 summarised these views as follows:
… Much of the evidence given to the Committee, and to its successor appointed in 1898, was concerned with such victims of the rapacious moneylender as the widow forced to borrow on a bill of sale of her household effects, and the young son of the aristocracy who in the course of sowing his wild oats ran up large debts, at exorbitant interest, which his family [was] later blackmailed into paying to avoid the publicity of court proceedings.
A review of the Singapore parliamentary records on Bills relating to the predecessors to the current MLA demonstrates a congruent legislative intent. For example, in Singapore Parliamentary Debates, Official Report (2 September 1959) vol 11 at col 593, Seow Peck Leng made the following remarks:
This Bill [referring to the Moneylenders Bill] is laudable for the fact that it protects the poor from the clutches of unscrupulous moneylenders. This Bill, in my opinion, should be implemented as soon as possible to ease the hardship of those already victimised and to prevent those who, because of financial difficulties, may be victimised in the future …
It is the very, very poor, Sir, who need protection most, who usually take loans of less than $100, and I think that they are the ones who should be protected …
In City Hardware Pte Ltd v Kenrich Electronics Pte Ltd  1 SLR 733 (“City Hardware”) the High Court noted that the MLA has “the salutary objective of proscribing rapacious conduct by unlicensed and unprincipled moneylenders” who prey on individuals who turn to them out of financial destitution. It emphasised that the provisions of the MLA are not intended to apply to transactions made at arm’s length between commercial entities and it has never been the objective of the MLA to prohibit or impede legitimate commercial intercourse between commercial persons.
The High Court further emphasised in City Hardware that the Courts should not adopt an over-extensive application of the MLA even though its provisions may be literally construed to cover most commercial situations, as that would not advance the legislative purpose of the Act.
The current MLA is based substantially on its 2008 predecessor. At the Second Reading Speech for the 2008 amendments (Singapore Parliamentary Debates, Official Report (18 November 2008) vol 85 at cols 1001-1004), the policy objectives of the MLA were again acknowledged by Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee, the then Senior Minister of State for Law:
Sir, the Moneylenders Act was enacted in 1959, about 50 years ago. Amendments have been few and far between, primarily focusing on enhancing the provisions that tackle unlicensed moneylender or loansharking. The Act was intended as a piece of social legislation to safeguard what we would call “small-time borrowers” from unscrupulous moneylenders. Hence, its chief concern was the charging of exorbitant interests. The lenders then were also essentially small-scale operators.
In discussing the 2008 amendments to the MLA, the Court of Appeal recently made the following observations on “excluded moneylenders” in Sheagar s/o T M Veloo v Belfield International (HongKong) Ltd  SGCA 24 (“Sheagar”):
In our judgment, in passing the 2008 amendments, Parliament had intended to de-regulate commercial borrowing by excluding this class from the MLA in addition to those already excluded prior to 2008. This was to ensure that the flow of credit in the business domain was not stifled. Furthermore, insofar as paragraph (e) of the definition of “excluded moneylender” in s 2 of the MLA is concerned, Parliament also regarded such borrowers, that is to say, corporations, limited liability partnerships, business trusts, real estate trusts and sophisticated investors as being a less vulnerable class of borrowers that did not need the protection afforded by a piece of social legislation. This in turn justified a lower degree of regulatory oversight over the activities of lenders who lent exclusively to such borrowers.
This background suggests that the MLA simply does not apply to lenders who fall within the definition of “excluded moneylender” under s 2 of the MLA and their activities therefore do not come within the regulatory ambit of the MLA at all. (emphasis mine)
The Bill for the current version of the MLA was thoroughly debated in Parliament in January 2010 at the Second Reading Speech for the Moneylenders (Amendment) Bill (Singapore Parliamentary Debates, Official Report (12 January 2010) vol 86. The entire debate between several Members of Parliament appears to have focused on the implementation of enhanced measures to tackle the “loanshark scourge”, including stiffer penalties under s 14 of the MLA for unlicensed moneylending. Based on an electronic search conducted on the said parliamentary report, the word “syndicate” appeared in the search results in a total of 52 instances, being in each case contextual references to “crime syndicate” or “loanshark syndicate”; there was not one reference to “syndicated loan”.
(Original Enactment: Act 31 of 2008)
2. In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires —
“bank” means —
“excluded moneylender” means —
any pawnbroker licensed under the Pawnbrokers Act 2015;
any person who —
lends money solely to —
“firm” means an unincorporated body of 2 or more individuals, or one or more individuals and one or more corporations, or 2 or more corporations, who have entered into partnership with one another with a view to carrying on business for profit and that is registered under the Business Names Registration Act 2014;
“real estate investment trust” means a collective investment scheme that is —
“unlicensed moneylender” means a person —
who is not a licensee or an exempt moneylender.
—(1) No person shall carry on or hold himself out in any way as carrying on the business of moneylending in Singapore, whether as principal or as agent, unless —
(1A) For the purposes of subsection (1), a person who wholly or partly carries on, from a place outside Singapore, the business of moneylending in Singapore shall be taken to have carried on that business in Singapore.
(3) An application for the issue of a licence shall be —
accompanied by the payment of a non-refundable application fee of a prescribed amount, which shall be paid in such manner as may be specified by the Registrar.
(5) Without prejudice to section 7, the Registrar shall not issue a licence —
(4) Without prejudice to section 7, the Registrar shall not renew a licence —
—(1) For the purposes of sections 5 and 6, the Registrar may refuse to issue or renew a licence on any of the following grounds:
the applicant is not —
if the applicant, any director, partner or substantial shareholder of the applicant, or any person who is or will be responsible for the management of the applicant’s business of moneylending —
(2) For the purposes of sections 5 and 6 and without prejudice to subsection (1), where an application is made by any person for the issue or renewal of a licence to carry on the business of moneylending as an agent for a principal, the licence shall not be issued or renewed where —
—(1) The Registrar may revoke a licence, or suspend it for such period as he considers appropriate, if he is satisfied —
that the licensee —
had, in connection with an application for the issue or renewal of the licence —
—(1) An applicant for the issue of a licence or a licensee who intends to carry on the business of moneylending at any new place or places of business shall, before commencing the business of moneylending at such place or places, apply in writing to the Registrar to approve such place or places of business for moneylending.
(3) The Registrar shall not approve any place of business for moneylending —
(6) The Registrar may revoke his approval under this section, or suspend his approval for such period as he considers appropriate, if he is satisfied —
(12) The approval of any place of business for moneylending —
(13) Any licensee who —
carries on the business of moneylending at a place of business without the approval of the Registrar; or
carries on the business of moneylending at a place of business in respect of which the approval of the Registrar has been revoked or is suspended,
—(1) Every licensee shall obtain the approval of the Registrar —
as soon as practicable after —
13. The Registrar may, from time to time, cause to be published in such manner as he may determine —
—(1) Subject to subsection (1A), any person who contravenes, or who assists in the contravention of, section 5(1) shall be guilty of an offence and —
in any other case —
in the case of a second or subsequent offence, shall on conviction be punished with a fine of not less than $30,000 and not more than $300,000 and with imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years.
(1A) Subject to sections 325(1) and 330(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code 2010 —
a person who is convicted of a second or subsequent offence under subsection (1) shall also be liable to be punished with caning with not more than 12 strokes.
(2) Where any contract for a loan has been granted by an unlicensed moneylender, or any guarantee or security has been given for such a loan —
(3) Subsections (1) and (2) shall not apply to a moneylender who —
(3A) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), a person assists in a contravention of section 5(1) if —
he receives, possesses, conceals or disposes of any funds or other property, or engages in a banking transaction relating to any funds, on behalf of any person knowing or having reasonable grounds to believe that —
he keeps the records and accounts of a business knowing or having reasonable grounds to believe that the carrying on of such business contravenes section 5(1);
he promotes or advertises a business knowing or having reasonable grounds to believe that the carrying on of such business contravenes section 5(1); or
he provides or gives access to the name of or other information relating to any other person (referred to as a potential borrower), or otherwise refers a potential borrower, to a person whom he knows or has reasonable grounds to believe is carrying on a business in contravention of section 5(1), intending to facilitate or knowing it to be likely to facilitate the lending of money by such person to the potential borrower.
(3B) In subsection (3A), “funds” and “property” have the meanings given to those words in section 15A.
—(1) Any person who, in connection with an application for the issue or renewal of a licence or for the approval of any place of business for moneylending —
(2) Any licensee who —
15A. In this Part, unless the context otherwise requires —
“deal with” means —
in respect of property comprising funds —
“property” means property of every kind, whether tangible or intangible, movable or immovable, and whether situated within or outside Singapore, and includes funds.
—(1) In this Part, property is proceeds of unlicensed moneylending if it is wholly or partly derived or realised, whether directly or indirectly, from a contravention of section 5(1).
(2) Property becomes proceeds of unlicensed moneylending if —
(3) Property remains proceeds of unlicensed moneylending even if —
it is dealt with or disposed of.
—(1) Where —
any account which has been credited with such property as an account with proceeds of unlicensed moneylending (referred to in this Part as specified account).
(2) The Minister may vary or revoke the order at any time.
(3) The Minister shall revoke the order if the person referred to in subsection (1)(a) is no longer detained and is not subject to the supervision of the police under an order made under section 32 of the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act.
—(1) Where the Minister makes an order under section 15C, he shall —
if he varies or revokes the order, take steps to publish the variation or revocation in the Gazette or bring the variation or revocation to the attention of the persons served with a copy of the order, as the case may be.
(2) Where the Minister serves a copy of the order on certain persons under subsection (1), only those persons are subject to the prohibition in section 15E(1).
(3) The High Court may, on the application of a person affected by the order, set aside the order in whole or in part.
(4) An application under subsection (3) shall be made within 30 days from the date of publication or service of the order, as the case may be.
(5) The order may be set aside in whole or in part by the High Court if, and only if, the applicant proves to the satisfaction of the Court that any specified property is not, or any specified account has not been credited with, proceeds of unlicensed moneylending.
(6) The correctness, validity or legality of the order made under section 30 or 32 (as the case may be) of the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (Cap. 67), or of any ground upon which such order is made, shall not be raised as an issue or called into question in the course of an application under subsection (3) or during any proceedings relating to such application.
(7) A person who makes an application under subsection (3) shall serve a copy of the application on the Attorney-General not later than 7 days before the date fixed for the hearing of the application.
(8) Rules of Court may provide for the manner in which proceedings relating to an application under subsection (3) may be commenced or carried on.
—(1) A person shall not deal with any specified property, or any funds in any specified account, unless he does so under the authority of a licence granted under section 15H.
(2) A person who, without reasonable excuse, contravenes subsection (1) shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction —
in any other case, to a fine not exceeding $100,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or to both.
(3) This section is subject to section 15D(2).
—(1) A person is not guilty of an offence under section 15E if he credits a specified account with interest or other earnings due on the account.
(2) For the avoidance of doubt, section 15E applies to any funds credited to the specified account in accordance with subsection (1).
15G. Where a person —
in any other case, to a fine not exceeding $150,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or to both.
—(1) The Minister may grant a licence to exempt any act from the prohibition in section 15E.
(2) A licence may be —
of indefinite duration or subject to an expiry date.
(3) The Minister may vary or revoke a licence at any time.
(4) Where the Minister grants, varies or revokes a licence, he shall —
in the case of a general licence or a licence granted to a category of persons, take such steps as the Minister considers appropriate to publicise the grant of the licence, or the variation or revocation thereof.
(5) Any person who does any act under the authority of a licence but fails to comply with any condition attaching to that licence shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction —
in any other case, to a fine not exceeding $50,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or to both.
(6) The Minister may delegate any power or duty under this section to the Commissioner of Police, except the power of delegation conferred by this subsection.
(2) For the purpose of subsection (1), any advertising or marketing material or any business letter, circular or other document shall be presumed, unless the contrary is proved, to contain information which is false or misleading in a material particular if such material or document —
—(1) No licensee shall —
(3) Where any loan has been granted in contravention of subsection (1) or (2), the licensee shall not be entitled to enforce —
—(1) No contract for a loan granted by a licensee, and no guarantee or security given by or on behalf of a borrower for the loan, shall be enforceable and no money paid by or on behalf of the licensee pursuant to the contract for the loan shall be recoverable in any court of law unless —
(2) Any licensee who makes or causes to be made any note of a contract for a loan in which the principal or rate of interest is, to the knowledge of the licensee, not stated or not truly stated shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction —
(2) The statement of account under subsection (1) shall be —
(3) A licensee shall, on an application made in writing by a borrower or surety, or a former borrower or surety, and on the payment of a processing fee of $10 or such other amount as may be prescribed, supply to the applicant or any other person on the direction of the applicant not later than 21 days after the date the application is made —
(4) A licensee who receives any cash payment from or on behalf of a borrower under a contract for a loan shall immediately issue to the payer a receipt, which shall set out in the English language —
(5) A licensee who issues a receipt in accordance with subsection (4) shall —
where the payer is other than the borrower —
(8) Where a licensee has contravened subsection (1), (2), (3), (4) or (5), or any requirement relating to the provision of information prescribed under subsection (6), the licensee shall not be entitled to enforce —
(2) Where, under any contract for a loan between a licensee and a borrower, the borrower is required to pay to the licensee any sum (not being a sum for or on account of stamp duties or fees payable by or under this Act or any other written law) on account of costs, charges or expenses other than or in excess of the permitted fees, such sum —
(3) In relieving the person sued under subsection (2), the court may, without prejudice to its power to grant any further or other equitable relief —
(4) Any court shall have and may exercise the powers referred to in subsections (1), (2) and (3) in relation to proceedings for relief brought by a borrower, a surety or other person liable to repay a loan to a licensee, notwithstanding —
(8) For the purposes of subsections (6) and (7) —
(9) Nothing in this section shall be construed as derogating from —
—(1) Every licensee shall keep or cause to be kept, for a period of not less than 5 years from the prescribed time —
(3) Every licensee shall submit to the Registrar the following statements, in such form and manner as the Registrar may require, not later than 14 days after the end of each quarter of each year commencing from the first day of January, April, July or October of the year:
(6) Any person who —
(7) Any licensee who knowingly or recklessly furnishes to the Registrar any information —
—(1) For the purpose of determining whether this Act has been complied with, the Registrar or an officer duly authorised by him (referred to in this section as an authorised officer) may at any time —
require the moneylender or any other person to furnish any information, book, record or other document either forthwith or at such other time and place and in such manner as the Registrar or the authorised officer may require;
(1A) The Registrar or an authorised officer may be assisted by any other person or persons when exercising the powers under subsection (1)(a), (b), (c) or (d).
(2) Any person who, without reasonable excuse, fails or refuses —
to furnish the Registrar or an authorised officer with any information, book, record or other document at such time and place or in such manner as required under subsection (1)(b);
(4) Any person who, knowingly or recklessly —
—(1) In the course of any investigation or proceedings into or relating to an offence by any person under section 14 or 28, whenever committed, or a conspiracy to commit, or an attempt to commit, or an abetment of any such offence, the Public Prosecutor may, notwithstanding anything in any other written law to the contrary, by written notice require the Comptroller —
to produce or furnish, as specified in the notice, any document or a certified copy of any document relating to that person, spouse, son or daughter which is in the possession or under the control of the Comptroller.
(2) The Comptroller to whom a notice is sent by the Public Prosecutor under subsection (1) shall, notwithstanding the provisions of any written law or any oath of secrecy to the contrary, be legally bound to comply with the terms of that notice within such time as may be specified therein.
(3) In this section, “Comptroller” means the Comptroller of Income Tax, or any Deputy Comptroller or Assistant Comptroller of Income Tax appointed under section 3(1) of the Income Tax Act (Cap. 134).
(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), the Registrar may by such directions —
27. If any moneylender, any director, partner, agent or employee of the moneylender, or any person who is responsible for the management of the business of moneylending of the moneylender —
—(1) Subject to subsection (3), where an unlicensed moneylender —
in any other case —
in the case of a second or subsequent offence, shall on conviction be punished with imprisonment for a term of not less than 2 years and not more than 9 years and shall also be liable to a fine of not less than $6,000 and not more than $60,000.
(2) Subject to subsection (3), any person who, acting on behalf of an unlicensed moneylender, commits or attempts to commit any of the acts specified in subsection (1) shall be guilty of an offence and —
in the case of a second or subsequent offence, shall on conviction be punished with imprisonment for a term of not less than 2 years and not more than 9 years and shall also be liable to a fine of not less than $6,000 and not more than $60,000.
(3) Subject to sections 325(1) and 330(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code 2010 —
a person who is convicted for the first time of an offence under subsection (1) or (2) shall also be punished with caning —
a person who is convicted of a second or subsequent offence under subsection (1) or (2) shall also be punished with caning —
with not less than 9 and not more than 18 strokes if it is proved to the satisfaction of the court that, in the course of committing the offence, hurt was caused to another person and damage was caused to any property.
(3A) For the purposes of paragraph (a) of subsection (1), a person who —
(3B) For the purposes of paragraph (b) of subsection (1), a person who makes any telephone call, or by any means sends any article, message, word, sign, image or representation, whether from a place in Singapore or outside Singapore, to any person or place in Singapore, which is likely to cause alarm or annoyance to a person referred to in that paragraph, shall be taken to have committed an act referred to in that paragraph.
(5) For the purposes of subsection (3), a person is deemed to have caused damage to any property if he does any of the following acts:
—(1) For the purposes of Chapter V of the Penal Code (Cap. 224), a person shall be taken to have abetted the commission of an offence under section 28 if —
he provides or arranges transport to a person for the purpose of his acting as a lookout for a person carrying out any such act, and he knows and has reasonable cause to believe that the act is in connection with such a demand.
(2) For the purposes of Chapter V of the Penal Code, where —
(3) For the avoidance of doubt, this section is without prejudice to the generality of the term “abetment” under the Penal Code.
—(1) Subject to subsection (2), any person of or above the age of 21 years who causes or procures any person below the age of 16 years to commit an offence under section 14 or 28 shall be guilty of an offence and —
in any other case, shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $30,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both.
(2) Subject to sections 325(1) and 330(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code 2010 —
a person who is convicted of an offence under subsection (1) for causing or procuring any person below the age of 16 years to commit an offence under section 28 shall, if the offence under section 28 is thereby committed, also be liable to be punished with caning with not more than 12 strokes.
—(1) A person shall be guilty of an offence if —
the unlicensed moneylender or a person acting on his behalf uses the contact information for the purpose of committing an offence under section 28(1) or (2) against any other person.
(2) Any person who is guilty of an offence under subsection (1) shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months.
(3) In subsection (1), “contact information” means a residential address, business address, telephone number, facsimile number or any other information given to enable an unlicensed moneylender to contact a borrower.
(3) When it is made to appear to any court by any person entitled to make an application under section 23 that any transaction entered into with a moneylender not resident in Singapore prima facie ought to be re-opened, the court may —
—(1) The Public Prosecutor may, if he considers that any evidence of the commission of an offence under section 14 or 28, whenever committed, or a conspiracy to commit, an attempt to commit, or an abetment of such an offence, by a person is likely to be found in any document containing customer information relating to that person, to the spouse, son or daughter of that person, or to a person reasonably believed by the Public Prosecutor to be a trustee or an agent for that person, by order authorise any police officer of or above the rank of assistant superintendent so named to inspect any document of a bank specified in the order.
(2) The police officer so authorised may, at all reasonable times, enter the bank specified in the order and inspect the documents kept therein and may take copies of any relevant entry in any such document.
(3) The Public Prosecutor may delegate his power under this section to a Deputy Public Prosecutor or the Commissioner of Police, except the power of delegation conferred by this subsection.
(4) In this section, “customer information” has the meaning given to that expression in section 40A of the Banking Act (Cap. 19).
—(1) Notwithstanding any provision to the contrary in the Criminal Procedure Code (Cap. 68), a District Court shall have jurisdiction to try any offence under this Act and shall have power to impose the full penalty or punishment in respect of the offence.
(2) Where any act constituting an offence, or part of an offence, under section 14 or 28 is committed outside Singapore by a person, he may be dealt with in respect of that offence as if the act had been committed within Singapore.
—(1) Whenever 2 or more persons are charged with an offence under section 14 or 28, whenever committed, or with a conspiracy to commit, or an attempt to commit, or an abetment of such an offence, the court may require one or more of them to give evidence as a witness or witnesses for the prosecution.
(2) Any such person who refuses to be sworn or to answer any lawful question shall be dealt with in the same manner as witnesses so refusing may by law be dealt with by a Magistrate’s Court or District Court, as the case may be.
(3) Every person so required to give evidence, who in the opinion of the court makes true and full discovery of all things as to which he is lawfully examined, shall be entitled to receive a certificate of indemnity under the hand of the Magistrate or District Judge, as the case may be, stating that he has made a true and full discovery of all things as to which he was examined, and that certificate shall be a bar to all legal proceedings against him in respect of all those things.
—(1) Where an offence under this Act committed by a body corporate is proved —
(3) Where an offence under this Act committed by a partnership is proved —
(4) Where an offence under this Act committed by an unincorporated association (other than a partnership) is proved —
(5) In this section —
—(1) The Registrar, or the Commissioner of Police or any police officer authorised in writing by the Commissioner of Police, may, in his discretion, compound any offence under this Act which is prescribed as an offence which may be compounded by the Registrar, the Commissioner of Police or such police officer by collecting from a person reasonably suspected of having committed the offence a sum not exceeding —
(2) Every exemption under subsection (1) —
(4) Any person who has been granted an exemption under this section and desires to apply to the Minister to vary or revoke any of the existing conditions of his exemption shall —
(9) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (8), the Minister may at any time revoke, whether wholly or in part, any exemption —
(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), the Minister may make rules —
(3) Rules made under this section may —
(4) Rules made under this section may provide that a contravention of any specified provision thereof shall be an offence, and —
in respect of any other rules, may provide —
—(1) Notwithstanding the repeal of the Moneylenders Act, as from 1st March 2009 —
(2) Where any person —