Customs officer rejected GST tourist refunds, then pocketed the sum

Ex-higher customs officer Li Xiangqing was sentenced to 18 months' jail for fraudulently obtaining GST refunds of $30,762. ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE - When he was a customs officer, Li Xiangqing would deny some tourists leaving Singapore their Goods and Services Tax (GST) refund claims.

But he retained the details of these same claims.

The 35-year-old then credited the refunds into four of his credit card using the electronic tourist refund scheme (eTRS). The scheme does away with the need to fill up paper forms.

He also credited refunds into a separate credit card he got a friend to apply for under a false pretext.

Li did this for eight months, pocketing $52,441 in the process.

On Friday (Feb 9), he was sentenced to 18 months' jail after admitting to 10 counts of fraudulently obtaining GST refunds of $30,762 under eTRS. He was also ordered to pay a penalty of $92,285, three times the amount of tax defrauded.

Li, who is no longer with Singapore Customs, was deployed at the GST Refund Inspection Counter at Changi Airport to process GST refund claims. Tourists can claim refunds when departing from Singapore.

In the course of his work, he was presented with claims for GST refunds. He would reject some of them, but keep the details for later.

When the opportunity arose, he would use the details to electronically process the GST refunds into his or his friend's credit card.

Li had his friend apply for the credit card, claiming as a public servant, he needed it to hide the fact that he was running a business on the side.

After he secured the credit card, the friend handed it to Li.

In all, Li used the eTRS computer system to fraudulently obtain GST refunds on nine occasions, from Dec 11, 2011 to Aug 6, 2012.

Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore senior tax prosecutor Norman Teo said if the eTRS did not show the tourist's details, Li would either process the eTRS ticket with other eTRS tickets that had details of the tourist, or enter his former girlfriend's details as the "tourist" claiming the refund.

Li's fraudulent acts had resulted in a total GST refund of $52,441 being wrongfully credited to his cards and the credit card that bore his friend's name, said Mr Teo.

Li has made full restitution.

Forty-four other similar charges were taken into consideration in sentencing. Li, represented by Mr C.S. Lee, deferred sentence to Feb 23.

Meanwhile, another former customs officer accused of similar offences had her case adjourned to March 2.

Pang Yeow Biah, 61, has been given time to engage a lawyer and to make restitution. She also faces charges under the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act.

Anyone who commits the offence of wilful intent to obtain fraudulent GST refunds shall be liable on conviction to a penalty of up to three times the amount of refund wrongfully obtained, and a fine of up to $10,000, and/or a jail term of up to seven years.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.