Big jump in illegal cigs seized

SINGAPORE - Singapore Customs has seized about 1.9 million packets of contraband cigarettes in the first nine months of this year, which is an 84 per cent jump from the 1.03 million packets seized in the same period last year.

In a statement yesterday, Customs explained that the larger number of packets seized was due to stepped-up enforcement efforts by Customs and collaboration with other law-enforcement agencies against contraband-cigarette smugglers, peddlers and buyers.

Customs also said that more people could be ditching contraband cigarettes for duty-paid ones, as the duty collected from the latter had risen.

It increased by 4.2 per cent to $721 million in the first nine months of this year, compared to $692 million in the same period a year ago.

In two recent operations, Customs seized 13,300 cartons of duty-unpaid cigarettes, with a total street value of more than $1.2 million.

The total duty, and goods-and-services-tax amount evaded was over $1.02 million.

The 13,300 cartons seized is the fourth-largest haul of contraband cigarettes by Customs this year. The largest amount seized this year - 18,000 cartons - occurred on Jan 23.

In the first operation, conducted by Customs officers in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10 on Sept 25, a van carrying 2,500 cartons of contraband cigarettes was intercepted. The 57-year-old Singaporean driver was arrested.

The man was also known to have rented a truck suspected to have been used to transport duty-unpaid cigarettes.

After an islandwide search, enforcement officers found the vehicle at a carpark in Bangkit Road on Oct 4. Some 10,800 cartons of duty-unpaid cigarettes were recovered from the truck.

Customs said that buying, selling, conveying, delivering, storing, keeping, possessing or dealing with duty-unpaid goods are serious offences, and offenders will be dealt with severely.

For tobacco-related offences, the lowest fine for first-time offenders is $2,000, while that for repeat offenders is $4,000.

Repeat offenders can be fined up to 40 times the amount of duty evaded, jailed for up to six years, or both.

Repeat offenders caught with over 2kg of tobacco products will also face mandatory jail time. Vehicles used in the commission of such offences may also be forfeited.

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