Two Vietnamese men were sentenced to six months' jail yesterday for smuggling 12 songbirds into Singapore. The estimated retail price of each bird here is $1,800.
Businessman To Quoc Viet, 38, and his half-brother, Thai Anh Quoc, 48, who is jobless, were also jailed for four months each for animal cruelty. The sentences for animal cruelty will run concurrently with the sentences for smuggling. Their sentences were backdated to Dec 15.
The men pleaded guilty to importing 12 Chinese hwamei, a protected species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, without a permit on Dec 9.
They also subjected the birds to unnecessary pain or suffering. The birds had been confined for about 12 hours in plastic containers without food or water.
One died and another had to be euthanised after testing positive for avian influenza strain H3N8.
Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officers found the birds in plastic containers measuring 21cm by 6.5cm by 6.5cm in the men's luggage at Changi Airport.
Investigations showed that in Vietnam on Dec 7, To Quoc Viet's brother "Huy", a pet-shop owner, instructed him to prepare to go to Singapore, as a potential buyer wanted him to deliver the birds to Singapore. To Quoc Viet was promised a reward of $200.
The next evening, Huy sent someone to deliver the flight tickets and two pieces of luggage, each containing six live birds in plastic boxes, to the two men. The duo packed their personal belongings into the bags.
Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) prosecutor Yap Teck Chuan said the birds were housed in a cramped manner with hardly any space for them to move.
In a joint statement, AVA and ICA said the Government has zero tolerance for the use of Singapore as a conduit to smuggle endangered species. Animals that are smuggled into Singapore may introduce exotic diseases into the country.
Singapore is one of the few countries in the region free from bird flu, and AVA maintains this status through strict import regulations and enforcement. "The ICA and AVA would like to remind travellers not to bring animals, birds and insects into Singapore without a proper permit," the statement added.