Number of contraband cases fell by 8% last year but new methods of smuggling contraband cause for concern: ICA

Some of the methods of concealment that offenders use to smuggle illegal items.
Some of the methods of concealment that offenders use to smuggle illegal items.PHOTO: ICA

SINGAPORE - Smugglers have been using new ways to hide contraband last year, with more concealing them in luxury cars and some, in common household items to avoid detection at checkpoints.

"These methods of concealment remain a cause for concern, especially in the current security climate, as they could similarly be adopted by terrorists to smuggle dangerous materials such as weapons or explosives into Singapore," said the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) on Thursday.

For example, in August, over 2,180 cartons of duty-unpaid cigarettes were seized from a consignment labelled"children's play mats". In the following month, 347 cartons and 530 packets of such cigarettes were found hidden in various parts of a new luxury car.

Overall however, the number of contraband cases detected dropped by 8 per cent from 95,677 in 2015 to 88,050 last year.

ICA's Commissioner Clarence Yeo however said that the Authority "remains determined and steadfast in securing our borders".

His remarks come at atime of heightened security.

In February last year, ICA officers at the Woodlands Checkpoint refused entry to four Indonesians - three men and a 15-year-old teenager - at the arrival bus hall.

The four were believed to have been en route to the Middle East to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and were handed over to Indonesian police.

"As the nation's first line of defence, ICA will continue to conduct stringent checks on people, goods and conveyances while enhancing border clearance through innovation, collaboration and partnership," added Mr Yeo.

Fewer illegal immigrants and overstayers were arrested last year, with numbers dipping by over 30 per cent, said the ICA on Thursday as itreleased its annual statistics.

Following a downward trend in recent years, the number of illegal immigrants caught dropped from 310 in 2015 to 217 last year, while the figure for overstayers decreased from 1,591 in 2015 to 1,061 last year.

ICA said it adopts a "multi-pronged approach to deter, deny and detect" such offenders, adding that it will continue to work closely with the police and Manpower Ministry to enhance enforcement. Fewer homeowners and employers were found offering lodging and jobs to immigration offenders last year, after a 59 per cent spike the year before.

In 2016, 306 harbourers were arrested, down from 416 the year before, while the number of errant employers caught dropped from 91 in 2015 to 45 last year.

Besides ramping up community engagement, ICA said it will work to remind homeowners and employers to conduct due diligence checks on the status of foreigners before renting out their premises, or offering them jobs.

Fewer people were convicted for marriage of convenience offences as well, with the number dropping from 64 in 2015 to 43 last year.