Terminally ill man jailed 9 weeks for smuggling birds

Leong Kay Cheong, 44, had purchased the nine birds for $3,300 during his trip to Ho Chi Minh City last year.
Leong Kay Cheong, 44, had purchased the nine birds for $3,300 during his trip to Ho Chi Minh City last year.ST FILE PHOTO

A man suffering from terminal cancer was jailed for nine weeks yesterday for smuggling endangered birds into Singapore and causing cruelty to them during the transportation process.

Leong Kay Cheong, 44, tried to import six Melodious Laughing Thrushes and three White Rumped Shama birds from Vietnam on April 10 last year. He was intercepted by immigration officials at Changi Airport when they found the birds after screening his luggage.

The birds were in cylindrical tubes wrapped in aluminium foil, which were then put in black trash bags. All the thrushes and one White Rumped Shama died upon arrival in Singapore, while the other two White Rumped Shamas died within the next five days.

The Melodious Laughing Thrush belongs to a species listed under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act, which means that a permit issued by the Director-General of the Agri-Food and Veterinary Services is required to import the birds. A licence is required to import the White Rumped Shama, which is not on the endangered list.

Leong, who works part-time at a shop, admitted to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) that he did not have any import permit or licence to bring the birds into Singapore. He later told investigators that he had purchased the nine birds for $3,300 during his trip to Ho Chi Minh City.

In mitigation, Leong's lawyer, Mr David Nayar, said his client is a bird collector and wanted to rear the birds personally. He added that Leong was "equally shocked" when he discovered the birds were dead.

Mr Nayar said Leong had been diagnosed with Stage 4 throat cancer and the prognosis is not positive. He asked the court for a lighter sentence, noting Leong would like to spend what time he has left with his family.

In handing down the sentence, District Judge Ng Peng Hong said that while he felt there was a need to impose a deterrent sentence, he also sympathised with Leong's medical condition.

Leong was sentenced to nine weeks in jail for smuggling in the six Melodious Singing Thrushes and three weeks in jail for subjecting all nine birds to unnecessary pain and suffering. The two sentences are to run concurrently.

For importing a scheduled endangered species without a permit, Leong could have been fined up to $50,000, jailed for up to two years, or both. For subjecting an animal to unnecessary pain and suffering, he could have been fined up to $10,000, jailed up to a year, or both.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2015, with the headline 'Terminally ill man jailed 9 weeks for smuggling birds'. Print Edition | Subscribe