A former company director who tried to pass off shipments of duty-unpaid beer and rice wine as goods such as instant noodles and vinegar has been fined almost $2 million - the biggest penalty of its kind here in five years.
China-born Singapore citizen Qi Shuai, 28, is serving a jail sentence of 29 months and three weeks as he was unable to pay the sum. He is still a shareholder of Tita Logistics.
In May 2012, he imported a container to Pasir Panjang Terminal, which was sealed by Customs officers for further checks. They were acting on a tip-off.
Qi had not applied for Customs supervision to unpack it. Officers then conducted an on-site inspection at his company two days later and found that the seal had been broken and the goods removed.
Officers seized a total of 15,780 bottles and 8,448 cans of duty-unpaid beer and 1,500 bottles of duty-unpaid rice wine that had been unloaded from the container.
Another 1,766 bottles and 4,025 cans of duty-unpaid beer and 120 bottles of duty-unpaid rice wine were seized after Qi failed to produce documents to show tax had been paid for them.
Two weeks later, another consignment imported by Qi was inspected. Instead of finding soft drinks, seasoning and seasoning wine as declared, Customs officers uncovered 750 bottles of duty-unpaid rice wine.
Further investigations showed that Qi had sold 10,860 bottles and 720 cans of duty-unpaid beer and 6,795 bottles of duty-unpaid rice wine between December 2011 and May 2012.
The total duty and goods and services tax (GST) was more than $198,000. It was the largest evasion of alcohol duties since 2009, when the Italian head of a liquor distribution firm evaded $450,000 in duties and tax. He was fined $2.52 million.
Anyone who evades tax or duties can be fined up to 20 times the amount evaded.
Qi also pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorised breaking of a Singapore Customs seal. Six other charges were taken into consideration during sentencing.
Mr Wan Boon Oon, head of trade investigation at Singapore Customs, warned: "There will be no let-up in enforcement efforts against those who try to evade duties on liquor products. Offenders will be caught and dealt with severely."
Mr Liu Jiannan, a Singapore permanent resident, took over as company director of Tita Logistics last month.
"Business has not been affected and we're striving to put this episode behind us," he told The Straits Times in Mandarin. "We came to Singapore for entrepreneurship and being a new company at the time, we did not know the country's laws well.
"We've learnt a valuable lesson. We don't have anything to hide and so we won't be changing our company name."
Just 2,130 litres of liquor were seized last year, down from 33,020 litres in 2012, according to Singapore Customs statistics.
This article was published on April 16 in The Straits Times.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.