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Singapore Customs seized largest number of cigarettes in 2013

Some 2.9 million packets of contraband cigarettes were seized last year -- the largest seizure since 2010.

SINGAPORE: Some 2.9 million packets of contraband cigarettes were seized last year -- the largest seizure since 2010.

The quantity of contraband cigarettes seized increased 93.3 per cent, from 1.5 million packets seized in 2012 to 2.9 million packets in 2013.

And according to Singapore Customs, more offenders have been caught smuggling cigarettes into Singapore using luxury cars, thinking that such vehicles would less likely be checked at checkpoints.

The number of smokers caught for buying contraband cigarettes in Singapore is also on the rise.

In its annual enforcement results, Singapore Customs said 6,400 smokers were caught in 2013 compared to 6,248 smokers in 2012 -- a 2.4 per cent increase.

In 2011, 5,977 smokers were caught.

Smokers have also found creative ways to get a hold of contraband cigarettes.

Officials have pointed to a trend in transactions taking place through instant messaging platforms.

Last year, 13 offenders were nabbed for selling 1,740 contraband cartons of cigarettes worth more than S$169,000, via "WeChat".

Singapore Customs said the total duty and Goods and Services Tax evaded exceeded S$137,000.

When the deal is made, the contraband cigarettes will be delivered to the buyer. Enforcement officers nabbed the peddlers while they were delivering the cigarettes.

Twelve of the 13 offenders were sentenced to jail terms ranging from six weeks to 10 months, and fined ranging from S$1,100 to S$72,000.

Investigations are ongoing for the remaining offender.

Lee Boon Chong, senior assistant director-general at Singapore Customs, said: "For the public, if they see people selling illegal stuff on ‘WeChat’ or maybe some other social media platform … do come forward to alert the regulator and enforcement agency so that we can take prompt follow-up actions."

Singapore Customs also smashed four contraband cigarette syndicates in 2013.

Two syndicates had tried to smuggle more than 31,793 cartons of contraband cigarettes into Singapore.

One syndicate had falsely declared the cigarettes as floor and wall tiles.

The second syndicate hid the cigarettes in specially constructed fibre tanks.

Singapore Customs said in the fibre-tank case, 17,393 cartons and eight packets of contraband cigarettes were seized, making it the second-largest haul of contraband cigarettes last year.

Four men were arrested in that case.

But the total number of cigarette offenders caught inland and at Singapore's checkpoints saw a decrease of 5.1 per cent, from 28,502 offenders in 2012 to 27,041 offenders in 2013.

The number of peddlers caught for selling contraband cigarettes is also on the downward trend.

Last year, 398 peddlers were caught, compared to 402 in 2012. In 2011, 458 peddlers were caught.

More revenue has been collected from the sale of duty-paid cigarettes over the last three years.

Duty collected increased 4.9 per cent from S$932 million in 2012 to S$978 million in 2013.
In 2011, S$917 million was collected.

The annual enforcement numbers also include figures on liquor offences and fuel gauge offences.

In April 2013, Singapore Customs and the Singapore Police Force busted an adulterated liquor syndicate.

A total of 504 bottles and 63 jerry cans of adulterated liquor (equivalent to about 2,130 litres), related counterfeit accessories and production equipment were seized.

For liquor offences, there was a 35.3 per cent drop from 1,951 offenders in 2012 to 1,263 offenders in 2013.

In 2011, there were 2,323 offenders for those offences.

Singapore Customs said the majority of those cases were minor offences committed by travellers coming through Singapore's checkpoints.

As for fuel gauge offences, four offenders were prosecuted in 2013, compared to 17 in 2012.

Singapore Customs said the drop in the number of offenders prosecuted suggests that the public has become aware of the stern penalties they face should they flout the law.

Singapore-registered motor vehicles must have at least three-quarter tank of petrol when departing Singapore. 

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