Penalty for cig smuggler, 72, feels 'on high side': CJ

New sentencing guidelines for cigarette smugglers could be on the way after Singapore's top judge considered the consistency of recent cases and the one before him on appeal.

Malaysian Yap Ah Lai, 72, had pleaded guilty last year to importing 161.4kg of duty-unpaid cigarettes worth $76,147.80 across the Causeway last October.

The unpaid excise duty and goods and services tax (GST) amounted to $56,812.80 and $5,330.35 respectively - exposing the elderly man to a minimum fine of almost $1 million.

As Yap would not have been able to afford this, he was instead given a two-year jail term by a district court.

On Friday, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said the punishment felt "on the high side" in the light of previous cases.

He wondered if Yap's advanced years should have been given some weight while deciding on the punishment.

"Perhaps some value could be given to... Yap's age and his lack of antecedents to justify a lighter sentence," he said.

But Deputy Public Prosecutor April Phang argued that Yap's age may not be a significant mitigating factor as he had known what he was doing was wrong and that the penalties would be great if caught.

She added that a more lenient approach could encourage criminal syndicates to approach the elderly and destitute to front their illegal operations.

According to an annual statistics report released on Wednesday by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), some 99,700 attempts to smuggle contraband items into Singapore were detected last year - a 24.3 per cent increase over the 80,200 in 2012.

Duty-unpaid cigarettes and controlled drugs were among the items found last year. When tobacco products exceeding 2kg in weight are involved, first-time offenders may be fined up to 20 times the amount of duty evaded and are liable to a maximum jail term of three years.

CJ Menon reserved his decision to a later date.

pohian@sph.com.sg


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