SINGAPORE - The number of people caught last year for offences related to contraband cigarettes was the highest in the last five years.
The latest figures from Singapore Customs showed that 28,502 people were caught last year, up by 9 per cent from 26,164 in 2011. Out of these, 27,726 were fined, while 776 were charged.
Smugglers made up the majority but among those caught were buyers, peddlers and syndicate members.
Demand for contraband cigarettes remained high, as seen by the increase in the number of buyers who were nabbed.
Out of the total of 28,502 people, 6,248 were caught for buying contraband cigarettes, a 5 per cent increase from 5,977 in 2011.
A large number were in their 30s and 40s, said Mr Lee Boon Chong, senior assistant director-general of the intelligence and investigation division of Singapore Customs, during a media briefing yesterday.
Mr Lee said the figures reflected a strong demand for contraband cigarettes, and are a "cause for concern".
But he said the figures also proved the effectiveness of enforcement efforts by Singapore Customs and its partners, including the Singapore Police Force and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority of Singapore.
The number of peddlers caught has decreased from 458 in 2011 to 402 last year.
Mr Lee attributed this fall to the collaboration between Singapore Customs and its partners.
In addition, he said Singapore Customs smashed four contraband cigarette syndicates, which attempted to smuggle the cigarettes into Singapore.
Other figures released by Singapore Customs include revenue collected from the sale of duty-paid cigarettes. It rose from $917 million in 2011 to $932 million last year, reflecting the demand for duty-paid cigarettes among smokers.
Mr Lee said: "To tackle the demand for contraband cigarettes, Singapore Customs will continue to intensify enforcement against buyers and sellers, implement regulatory changes, and reach out to the public through a seven-month-long anti-contraband cigarette campaign."
In a bid to raise public awareness last year, Singapore Customs held more than 200 talks and roadshows at various venues, including schools and foreign worker dormitories.
In addition, all cigarette packets sold in Singapore must carry the revised Singapore Duty-Paid Cigarette mark from March 1.
The new mark features a series of vertical bars around each cigarette, to allow enforcement officers and the public to better differentiate between duty-paid cigarettes and contraband ones.
Those caught with duty-unpaid goods can be fined up to 40 times the amount of duty evaded, jailed up to six years, or both.
Vehicles used to commit such offences may also be forfeited.
Members of the public with information on smuggling activities or the evasion of goods and services tax can call the Singapore Customs hotline on 1800-233-0000.
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