Cigarette smuggling hits record numbers

Cigarette smuggling hits record numbers
File photo of a group of young smokers in Singapore

Three million packets of contraband cigarettes were seized by the authorities last year, a 3.4 per cent increase from the year before, and the highest figure recorded since 2009.

In its annual enforcement statistics released yesterday, Singapore Customs noted growth in both the quantity smuggled in and the number of vehicles used in attempts to bring in the cigarettes through land checkpoints.

Three syndicates were busted by the authorities last year, two of them run by Chinese nationals, and the third by Singaporeans. More than 57,000 packets were seized from these operators alone.

Eleven people were arrested, including the leader of the Singaporean syndicate, understood to be a woman in her 50s. Seven of those caught are from China, and have been sentenced to between nine and 18 months' jail each.

The other four consisted of three Singaporeans and one Malaysian who is a Singapore permanent resident.

The contraband cigarettes were smuggled in by these groups by land, air and sea, with most brands originating from China.

Some smugglers tried to hide them between "cover items", such as wall clocks and T-shirts. The largest single haul was in January, when almost 150,000 packets were found in specially constructed spaces beneath board partitions in a 40ft shipping container.

Several cases involved vehicles using the land checkpoints at Woodlands and Tuas. Customs seized 243 vehicles, the largest number in five years.

A total of 1.1 million packets of cigarettes, valued at over $11 million, recovered from these vehicles were concealed in modified compartments such as under the floorboards and in fuel tanks.

In one instance, 21-year-old Malaysian Koi Kah Wei tried to smuggle 1,048 packets with unpaid taxes amounting to $9,000. Investigations revealed that Koi stood to gain RM500 (S$186) if he had succeeded in his mission. After his arrest, he was sentenced last June to three months in jail and had his car forfeited.

Senior assistant director-general of intelligence and investigations Lee Boon Chong said the persistent demand for contraband cigarettes in Singapore has continued to draw smugglers.

Many are sold in areas such as Geylang, Tampines and Bedok, where packets go for as little as $5 - less than half the cost of a regular pack of duty-paid cigarettes.

Those who breach the Customs Act and Goods and Services Tax Act can be fined up to 40 times the amount of duty evaded and/or be jailed for up to six years.

Meanwhile, there were 1,305 liquor offenders caught last year, up slightly from 1,268 the year before. No fuel gauge offences were recorded, down from four in 2013.

This article was first published on Feb 5, 2015.
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