Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon on Tuesday laid down sentencing guidelines for cigarette smugglers, saying that the weight of tobacco should be used as a starting point in deciding jail terms.
The chief justice said this in reducing the jail term - from two years to 15 months - of Yap Ah Lai, a 72-year-old Malaysian man who smuggled 161.4kg of contraband cigarettes into Singapore last year.
CJ Menon, who heard Yap's appeal against his two-year jail term in February, said in his written judgment on Tuesday that he was troubled by the lack of consistency in sentences for such offences.
The offence of importing more than 2kg of tobacco products is punishable by a fine of up to 20 times the duty or tax evaded, or jail for up to three years, or a combination of both.
CJ Menon said that fines should generally not be imposed in cases where it is beyond the means of the offender to pay. And when a jail term is to be imposed, the key factor to consider is the weight of tobacco involved.
CJ Menon set the following benchmark jail terms: three to six months for smuggling between 2kg and 50kg; six months to a year for 51kg to 100kg; one to one and a half years for 101kg to 200 kg; one and a half to two years for 201kg to 300 kg; two to two and a half years for 301kg to 400kg; two and a half to three years for more than 400kg.
Explaining why quantity of tobacco is the primary factor, CJ Menon noted that the rationale underlying the offence is first, the loss of revenue to the Government, and second, the public policy interest in discouraging consumption of harmful goods.
As such, the greater the amount of tobacco smuggled, the greater is the injury to the public policy and the amount of loss to revenue, he said.