The nine Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) armoured vehicles worth HK$136.6 million (S$24 million) that were seized in Hong Kong were labelled as civilian vehicles and did not have the required licence, a district court in Hong Kong has heard.
Hong Kong Customs officers discovered the nine Terrex troop carriers in the city in 2016, the prosecution told the court on Thursday, the first day of the criminal trial against shipping firm APL and ship captain Pan Xuejun.
APL and Pan have pleaded not guilty to breaching the Import and Export Ordinance. The maximum sentence is a jail term of seven years and an unlimited fine.
Chinese national Pan was the captain of the vessel belonging to his employer APL, which was transporting the nine Singapore-made Terrex infantry carriers back to Singapore after a military exercise in Taiwan in November 2016.
The ship, APL Qatar, docked at Terminal 8 of Kwai Chung Container Port at 8.32am on Nov 23, 2016.
The court heard that two Customs officers on a routine check that day saw a roofless container measuring 7.7m by 2.9m by 3.9m wrapped in a thick canvas cover with a metal chain and rope.
The officers realised it was a military vehicle inside the container, and discovered five more on the same deck and another three in storage spaces below the deck.
The prosecution said Customs officials checked their database, but the shipment documentation failed to mention the containers.
APL staff were later questioned, and the firm produced a document that described the goods inside the containers as "vehicles".
In Hong Kong, "strategic commodities" must have a licence to be imported, issued by the city's director-general of trade and industry, which the prosecution said APL and Pan did not have.
This led Hong Kong officials to seize the Terrex vehicles.
The court heard that the seized vehicles were impounded at the River Trade Terminal in Tuen Mun and returned to the Singapore Government on Jan 26 last year after investigations wrapped up.
A Hong Kong firearms expert confirmed that the amphibious vehicles, with tear-gas launchers and which can withstand anti-personnel mines, were designed for military purposes.
The nine vehicles were designed and made in Singapore, and were introduced in 2009.
The 24-tonne eight-wheelers can carry 13 soldiers each, travel at a top speed of 105kmh, and are also at home in water.
The trial continues on Monday.