SINGAPORE - Four Indian nationals were jailed between three and four years on Wednesday for fraudulent Goods and Services Tax (GST) tourist refund claims of about $570,000.
They were ordered to pay penalties equivalent to three times of tax undercharged.
Sundar Panneer Selvam, 46, Baskaran Uthirapathy, 28, Pounraj Natarajan, 25, and Gobi Raman, 31, had pleaded guilty to money laundering.
Three of them - Sundar, Baskaran and Pounraj - had faced bribery charges as well.
Sundar was given four years' jail and ordered to pay a penalty of $292,977; Baskaran's sentence was 31/2 years and a penalty of $237,596; while Pounraj got 45 months and a $201,130 penalty; and Gobi, three years and a $202,045 penalty.
The four were among six charged last month. The cases against former higher customs officer Mohamed Yusof Abdul Rahman, 67, and sales executive Lim Pheck Aun, 50, are pending.
The court heard that the offences came to light when the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) detected several suspicious GST refund claims through the electronic tourist refund scheme (eTRS) last year.
Subsequent investigations by IRAS, Singapore Customs and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau showed fraudulent claims of about $570,000 in GST refunds by the group between September 2012 and January this year.
As part of their illegal scheme, the four Indian nationals paid for receipts from bona fide shoppers who had bought jewellery and obtained eTRS tickets from the jewellery retailers.
They would then present the eTRS tickets together with jewellery that were not bought by them or used gold-plated jewellery which did not match the goods described on the eTRS tickets to an airport customs officer to support their claims.
Three of them admitted giving bribes to Mohamed Yusof so that they could get approval for their false GST refund claims. After getting their refunds, they spent part of the cash on duty-free items before departing for India with the remaining cash.
District Judge Liew Thiam Leng said there is a public interest involved in this case as it is important that the effectiveness of the GST system should not be compromised. He agreed with the prosecution that there were aggravating factors - conspiracy among those involved; the offences were premeditated and well planned; and difficulty to detect such offences.