Shipping firm APL and a container ship captain, both charged with transporting nine Singapore Armed Forces armoured vehicles to Hong Kong without a licence, could face tougher penalties after their case was moved from a magistrate's court to a district court yesterday.
The offence carries an unlimited fine and up to seven years' jail.
If the case is heard in the lower court, the maximum sentence a magistrate can impose is two years' jail and a fine of HK$100,000 (S$17,800) for a single offence. A district court judge, on the other hand, can impose a maximum of seven years' jail.
Yesterday, the principal magistrate also ordered the two separate charges faced by APL and the captain, Pan Xuejun, to be combined into one at the prosecution's request. The next hearing will be on June 6.
APL and Pan were charged with one count each of transporting nine vehicles designed or modified for military use under a sea waybill to Hong Kong without an import licence issued by the city's director-general of trade and industry.
Pan, a 39-year-old Chinese national whose case was first mentioned in the West Kowloon magistrate's court on March 24, is out on bail of HK$50,000.
The court heard that Pan was the captain of a vessel belonging to APL, his employer, transporting the Singapore-made Terrex infantry carriers back to Singapore after a military exercise in Taiwan late last year.
The ship stopped in Hong Kong on Nov 23 without an import licence issued by the city's director-general of trade and industry. This led Customs officials to seize the Terrex vehicles.
According to Hong Kong's Customs authorities, all vessels must fully declare all cargo on board before docking at its port. Generally, cargo in transit does not require an "import or export licence". However, such a licence is required for "certain types of strategic commodities", a Customs spokesman said in a statement last year.
During investigations, the Terrex vehicles were kept in a Customs indoor storage facility.
On Jan 24, Singapore's Foreign Ministry said Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying had replied to a letter from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to inform him that the Hong Kong authorities had completed their investigation and would release the vehicles and equipment.
The Terrex vehicles were returned and arrived in Singapore on Jan 30.