Ex-research fellow fined $7k for GST refund fraud

Bai Jiaming was detained as he was trying to leave the transit area of Changi Airport with a one-way ticket to Jakarta.
Bai Jiaming was detained as he was trying to leave the transit area of Changi Airport with a one-way ticket to Jakarta.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

Father of his then colleague helped him get tourist refund for $23.6k ring for his girlfriend

A former research fellow at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) was fined $7,000 yesterday after he was convicted of two goods and services tax (GST) offences.

Chinese national Bai Jiaming, 31, pleaded guilty last Friday to getting the help of his then colleague's father, Zhang Yaoqun, 61, to get a GST refund of $1,544 for a $23,600 Tiffany diamond ring bought by Bai. He also admitted to getting a Prada bag and the ring from Zhang, after a GST refund of $1,792 had been claimed on the two items.

Bai was detained with the items when he tried to exit the Arrival North Transit Area of Terminal 3 at Changi Airport on March 11 for suspected misuse of a boarding pass.

Singapore has seen a rising number of people misusing boarding passes for reasons like purchasing duty-free items or getting into the transit area to get closer to celebrities. A total of 59 people were arrested in the first half of this year, up from 22 in 2015 and 23 last year.

Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras) tax prosecutor Charles Li said Bai did not qualify for a GST refund under the Electronic Tourist Refund Scheme (eTRS) as he was not a tourist.

However, Bai, at the suggestion of his colleague Zhang Baicheng, engaged the help of the 33-year-old's father to get the GST refund.

The total GST amount involved is $1,792, out of which $248 is for the handbag and $1,544 for the ring.

The younger Zhang was with Bai when the former bought the handbag on Feb 23. Bai was looking for a ring to propose to his girlfriend.

Zhang Baicheng told Bai he would be using his father's passport to obtain a GST refund for the handbag. He then asked Bai if he would like to do the same for the ring.

Five days later, Bai bought the diamond ring from Tiffany while he was with Zhang Baicheng, who had his father's passport with him.

On March 11, Bai - with a one-way air ticket to Jakarta bought the previous day - went with the Zhangs to Changi Airport. The two Zhangs had return air tickets for Bangkok.

They checked in and entered the transit area. After Zhang Yaoqun obtained the GST refund for the bag and the ring, he gave the items to his son, who gave them to Bai. Bai tried to leave the transit area but was stopped by an Immigration and Checkpoints Authority officer. Zhang Baicheng was also detained, but it is unclear if his father flew to Bangkok.

Bai and the Zhangs also colluded to give false information to Iras. It was only late in the investigation that Bai admitted to lying. The Zhangs, who have been charged, will be dealt with separately.

Iras said yesterday that it takes a serious view of false declarations for GST refunds under the tourist refund scheme and abuses of the scheme. It said it works closely with the enforcement authorities to uncover any attempt of GST fraud.

There have been five cases of eTRS convictions and sentencing since 2014, with three this year.

The maximum penalty for contravening the Goods and Services Tax (General) Regulations is a $5,000 fine. In default of payment, offenders can be jailed for up to six months.

An A*Star spokesman said Bai is no longer its employee and would not comment on his case.

  • Additional reporting by Jose Hong
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2017, with the headline 'Ex-research fellow fined $7k for GST refund fraud'. Print Edition | Subscribe