Terminally ill man jailed 9 weeks for smuggling birds and animal cruelty

Leong Kay Cheong will serve his sentences for importing a scheduled endangered species without a permit and subjecting an animal to unnecessary pain and suffering concurrently.
Leong Kay Cheong will serve his sentences for importing a scheduled endangered species without a permit and subjecting an animal to unnecessary pain and suffering concurrently. ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE - A man suffering from terminal cancer was jailed for nine weeks on Friday (Oct 16) for smuggling endangered birds into Singapore and for the cruel way in which the animals were treated during the transportation process.

Leong Kay Cheong, 44, was trying to import six Melodious Laughing Thrushes and three White Rumped Shama birds from Vietnam on April 10 last year when he was stopped by immigration officials at Changi Airport.

The birds were kept in cylindrical tubes wrapped in aluminium foil and covered with an added layer of black trash bags. There was no food or water provided for the birds.

All the thrushes and one White Rumped Shama were dead 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 Argri-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. He said that he had given his luggage, with his clothing in it, to a man known only as "Ah Chang" to pack the birds.

In his mitigation, Leong's lawyer, Mr David Nayar, said that Leong was a bird collector and had wanted to rear the birds personally.

Mr Nayar added that Leong was shocked when he discovered the birds were dead, as he had been assured by "Ah Chang" that they would be placed securely and properly in his luggage for transportation to Singapore.

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

Leong, who stood next to the dock on Friday dressed in a grey top and jeans, had a visible swelling on the right side of his throat below the jawline.

In handing down the sentence, District Judge Ng Peng Hong said that while he felt that 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 importing 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, he 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 one year, or both.

osadaj@sph.com.sg