Man jailed for role in contraband cigarette syndicate, tried to limit co-accused from talking
SINGAPORE: A member of a contraband cigarette syndicate was jailed for almost three years on Friday (Mar 26), after confessing to his role in dealing with 457kg of cigarettes and helping evade S$225,000 in duties.
Tan Hock Ann, 42, also admitted to attempting to obstruct justice by trying to prevent his co-accused from divulging information that could be detrimental to others involved in the case.
Tan was sentenced to 35 months and one week's jail on Friday. He pleaded guilty to two counts under the Customs Act relating to dealing with contraband cigarettes and one charge of attempting to obstruct justice. Another five charges were considered in sentencing.
Tan was a sales director at an automobile company at the time of the offences.
He joined a chat group on messaging platform Zello under the username "smallgod888" in May 2019, with co-accused Selva Kumar Subramaniam, Toh Chih Wen, Lim Chee Siang and an unidentified person with the username 666Superman, the court heard.
The five men conspired to deal with contraband cigarettes. Tan's role was to coordinate the smuggling and relay instructions from his boss, an unidentified person known as "Ah Peng".
Tan had started working for Ah Peng, who lived in Malaysia, from March 2019 and was paid between S$200 and S$300 per job.
As part of the arrangement, Tan asked Selva to rent a truck and drive 666Superman to collect and deliver contraband cigarettes to Ah Peng's customers at various locations. Toh and Lim were to follow Selva in their own vehicles and be on the lookout for the police.
At about 5pm on May 3, 2019, Selva drove the truck to North View Bizhub in Yishun to collect contraband cigarettes from Ah Peng's suppliers. Lim and Toh kept a lookout.
They then proceeded to deliver the cigarettes to Ah Peng's customers.
During the course of the evening, Tan sent messages in the chat group asking Selva and 666Superman to load canvas bags containing assorted contraband cigarettes into another truck driven by co-accused Ma Xiangang.
Unknown to them, Singapore Customs had already received intelligence on the operation and was following them. They observed the bags being transferred from Selva's truck to the other vehicle, and arrested Selva.
After Selva was charged in court on May 4, 2019, Tan engaged a law firm to represent Selva. Tan corresponded with lawyer Ong Peng Boon through WhatsApp.
READ: Lawyers and client charged with trying to obstruct justice by alerting contraband cigarette syndicate
On May 21, 2019, Tan sent this message to Ong, who has also been charged for related offences: "Don't let them drag too long. If you see Kumar, please tell him to only stick to 300 cartons. And remind him that they cannot charge him other things based on the ZELLO. (Ask) him to protect his bro. Thanks."
Tan wanted Ong to convey the message to Selva so that Selva would admit only to offences involving 300 cartons of contraband cigarettes that were found in his truck, the court heard. He did not want Selva to admit to offences regarding the 1,250 cartons of cigarettes they had transferred to the other truck, or any other offences.
At the time Tan sent this message, Customs had not completed its investigations in the case. Through the message, Tan hoped that Selva would not implicate the other co-accused so they would not be prosecuted, the court heard.
On Aug 27, 2019, Ah Peng instructed Tan to help with another contraband cigarette operation as there was "an unforeseen lack of manpower".
Tan's job was to keep a lookout for the police and collect money from the sale. Customs officers caught wind of this and moved in at the West Star Building in Tuas Bay Close to detain Tan and three other men.
They found 1,390 cartons of contraband cigarettes in a modified compartment of a Malaysia-registered tipper truck at the location.
Several of the men in the case have been sentenced. Selva and Lim pleaded guilty and were given jail of 19 months and 20 months respectively. Ma pleaded guilty and was given two years' jail and fined S$4,000.
The three men in the West Star building incident also received 19 months' jail each.
Ong and another lawyer linked to the obstruction of justice charge were charged with Selva, and will return to court next month for pre-trial conferences.
Singapore Customs said in an earlier statement on the case that buying, selling, conveying, delivering, storing, keeping, having in possession or dealing with duty-unpaid goods are serious offences under the Customs Act and the GST Act.
Offenders can be fined up to 40 times the amount of duty and GST evaded and or jailed for up to six years. Vehicles used in the commission of such offences and proceeds of sales of duty-unpaid cigarettes are also liable to be forfeited.