Seized SAF Terrex troop carriers listed as 'civilian vehicles' in shipping firm's paperwork, HK court told

A file photo of the nine Singapore Armed Forces Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles, which arrived from Hong Kong on Jan 30, 2017, at the PSA Pasir Panjang terminal. The District Court in Hong Kong heard on Oct 11, 2018 that the vehicles did not have the required licence. PHOTO: ST FILE

HONG KONG - The nine Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) armoured vehicles worth HK$136.6 million (S$24.2 million) that were seized in Hong Kong were labelled as civilian vehicles and did not have the required licence, the District Court in Hong Kong heard on Thursday (Oct 11).

On the first day of the criminal trial against shipping firm APL and ship captain Pan Xuejun, the prosecution told the court how Hong Kong customs officers discovered the nine Terrex troop carriers in the city in 2016.

Both 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 the Kwai Chung Container Port at 8.32am on Nov 23, 2016.

Customs officials then did their routine checks at about noon that day, the prosecution said.

The court heard that the two officers saw a giant roofless container that was 7.7m by 2.9m and 3.9m, wrapped in a thick canvas cover with a metal chain and rope.

The officers quickly realised it was a military vehicle and discovered five more on the same deck and another three found in storage spaces below the deck.

The prosecution said customs officials checked their database but the shipment documentation failed to mention the flat rack containers.

APL staff were later questioned and the firm produced a document that described the goods inside the container as "vehicles".

In Hong Kong, the importation of "strategic commodities" must have a licence 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, 2017 after investigations were wrapped up.

The city's firearm expert confirmed that those amphibious vehicles, which boasted tear-gas launchers and are capable of withstanding 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 at home in water.

The trial continues next Monday (Oct 15).

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