$2.9 million fine for supplier who was part of largest criminal operation involving duty unpaid alcohol

SINGAPORE - When an alcohol supplier heard that others in the trade were siphoning off duty unpaid liquor to sell illegally, he struck a deal with them to sell his stock.

For a fee, the syndicate helped Ng Yin Hon to cover up the sale of duty unpaid alcohol to his customers, evading some $500,000 in taxes.

Ng, 35, was part of the largest and longest-running syndicated operation involving duty unpaid alcohol uncovered in Singapore, the court heard.

The total amount of taxes evaded amounted to some $25 million.

On Wednesday, Ng pleaded guilty to tax evasion and was fined $2.9 million.

He will be jailed for 40 months if he does not pay the fine by Oct 24.

The court heard that the syndicate sold liquor illegally here by diverting duty unpaid alcohol meant for consumption only on board vessels calling at Singapore, or in the territory permitted by Singapore Customs.

Such alcohol is considered as exported and thus exempt from taxes, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Jordon Li.

Without paying taxes, the syndicate would earn illegal profits by selling alcohol at much lower prices than other legitimate sellers, he added.

The syndicate was formed in 2017 by Lim Wei Luen, now 41, and Teo Tian Soon, 56 - also known as Muhammad Ridwan Teo - who handled supplies for ships.

They bought duty unpaid alcohol from suppliers who stored duty unpaid alcohol at licensed warehouses here to be sold to the vessels.

The group then formed nine shell entities which were declared as exporters of alcohol.

To forge the necessary permits, they paid a shipping agent to give them the details of the auxiliary police officers on duty, whose details were included in falsified permits to make it look genuine.

They also paid off drivers to move the liquor to a holding warehouse, from which the syndicate delivered the duty unpaid alcohol to their buyers illegally.

When Ng learnt in 2018 that Teo was illegally selling duty unpaid alcohol, he saw it as a chance to sell some stock to his customer Siva Reuben Sreetharan, 49, whose occupation was not mentioned in court documents.

For a fee, Teo agreed to forge the permits to cover Ng's illegal sales.

Over at least 60 occasions in 2019, Ng falsely declared some 40,000 bottles of liquor and nearly 100,000 cans of beer for export, despite knowing that they were meant to be delivered only to territories approved by Customs.

It amounted to nearly $500,000 in taxes evaded, said DPP Li, who sought a fine of $2,990,018.10 for Ng.

The offences came to light during a sting operation to catch the syndicate in November 2019 when Customs officers spotted a truck unloading duty unpaid alcohol at an unlicensed warehouse, leading to the arrests.

Ng is among 12 people who have been taken to court for their involvement in the syndicate.

Teo was earlier jailed for a year and fined $48 million, while Lim was fined $28 million.

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