SINGAPORE: A former Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) scholar was jailed three weeks on Friday (Oct 21) for forging two official emails from Singaporean and Japanese authorities so his pet birds would be allowed to enter Singapore.
Jonathan Quek hit a brick wall in getting official clearance when he tried to bring his four pet parakeets home after completing his studies in Tokyo in 2014, a District Court heard on Friday.
Singapore’s Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) requires birds to be kept in isolation in an approved facility for 21 days prior to import, and they must test negative for avian influenza during this time.
However, the only approved facility in Tokyo did not offer isolation services for birds and did not have qualified bird experts to examine the parakeets and certify them healthy, Quek’s lawyers Sunil Sudheesan and Diana Ngiam said.
Mr Sudheesan added that Quek would have had to travel three hours one way to feed and care for the birds, as the facility would not take care of their daily needs.
When Quek informed the AVA of this, the authority told him to check with Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) whether they would approve his home as the designated isolation premises for the birds. MAFF said this was not allowed.
The former scholar then decided to forge an email on Sep 15 from AVA veterinarian Dr Grace Sum to an MAFF official. He modified her email to give the false impression that the 21-day isolation period was not required for the birds to be exported to Singapore and that the avian influenza test could be carried out here.
MAFF subsequently issued export permits for the four parakeets and allowed the birds to be exported to Singapore.
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Quek was barred from collecting the birds from Singapore’s Changi Animal and Plant Quarantine Station when he could not produce certificates stating the birds had been quarantined for 21 days prior to export. Though Quek handed over the export permits, these did not include the results for avian influenza tests, and a station manager placed the birds under quarantine.
In response to this, Quek forged a second email on Oct 8, the court heard. Using a “spoof” website which masked his email address, Quek sent an email to the station manager claiming to be MAFF official Tatsuya Iwanaga.
The email attempted to explain why no documents had been issued and stated that the birds had been isolated for 21 days. Masquerading as Mr Iwanaga, Quek also said MAFF “cannot issue a new export quarantine certificate if we do not see the parakeets again”.
Quek’s offences came to light when the station manager replied to the email, copying two other Japanese officials, to let them know they should comply with regulations for future exports of birds to Singapore.
After being quarantined here for seven days, the birds were released to Quek, having been found healthy.
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Prosecutor Eugene Sng urged the court to impose a jail term of four to six weeks, saying Quek had put Singapore at risk of an avian influenza outbreak. At the time, Kumamoto prefecture in Japan was affected by the avian influenza, he said.
However, Quek’s lawyers argued that the prefecture was about 1,200km away from Tokyo, and that Quek’s birds had never left his apartment, much less ventured to Kumamoto.
Calling for a "short, custodial sentence", Mr Sudheesan urged the court to recognise Quek’s “conundrum” after he tried several times to come to an arrangement with authorities but was unsuccessful. He noted that Quek had done his best to satisfy AVA’s import requirements, even isolating the birds himself. “The only disagreement AVA would have … was with the facility our client chose to place his pet birds in," he said.
Quek served in the Americas Directorate and the Diplomatic Academy in MFA and left the ministry after his offences came to light.
For forgery, he could have been jailed for up to four years and fined.