Ivermectin and Covid-19 ART kits contribute to 40% jump in contraband cases among low-value goods: ICA

In 2021, ICA detected four attempts to smuggle more than 2,500 ivermectin tablets. PHOTO: ICA

SINGAPORE - Last year, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) foiled 93 attempts to smuggle more than 10,000 Covid-19 test kits of different brands that were unauthorised by the Health Sciences Authority.

Revealing these numbers to The Straits Times, ICA added that its officers also detected four attempts to smuggle more than 2,500 ivermectin tablets.

Last October, a 65-year-old retiree took the prescription drug, thinking it would protect her from Covid-19, and was hospitalised.

Ivermectin is meant to treat parasite infestations.

In its annual report released on Tuesday (Feb 15), ICA said these attempts were among the 5,860 contraband cases detected among low-value goods imported.

This is close to a 40 per cent increase from the 4,294 cases in 2020.

ICA said it has seen more contraband smuggling attempts via airfreight and parcels, specifically involving low-value goods. It said this was because consumers were turning to e-commerce and online purchases.

Low-value goods, which do not exceed $400 in cost, are currently not subject to the goods and service tax.

ICA told ST the most common contraband items smuggled included e-cigarettes and its accessories, and pharmaceutical products.

These constitute about 80 per cent of all contraband cases detected among imports of low-value goods.

The other smuggled contraband items detected included adulterated food products, cannabis extracts and Covid-19 test kits.

Meanwhile, the number of travellers cleared for entry and departure at Singapore's checkpoints plunged by 86 per cent from 42 million in 2020 to 5.9 million in 2021.

ICA attributed this to border closures and travel restrictions in many countries due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The volume of cargo - including consignments, containers and parcels - coming into Singapore saw a slight dip from 11.8 million units in 2020 to 10.9 million in 2021.

The drop in travellers and vehicles entering Singapore led to a one-third decrease in the number of contraband cases. A total of 27,000 contraband cases were detected in 2021, compared with 41,000 in 2020.

ICA noted how in some of these cases, offenders used sophisticated methods of concealment to hide contraband cigarettes.

These include concealing them in air-conditioning units, rolling paper drums and ventilation fans.

The most common contraband items smuggled included e-cigarettes and its accessories (pictured), and pharmaceutical products. PHOTO: ICA

ICA said it will continue to watch these trends closely as such methods of smuggling can be used by terrorists to smuggle weapons or explosives into Singapore.

ICA has also been enforcing stay-home notice (SHN) since the onset of the pandemic.

ICA said: "This has prevented the spread of the virus from imported cases to the community and, in turn, ensured the safe reopening of our borders for travel."

In 2021, ICA issued more than 350,000 SHNs, and nine people were charged under the Infectious Diseases Act with breaching SHN requirements.

ICA's enforcement efforts, tight border control measures and joint operations with other Home Team agencies also led to a drop in the number of immigration offenders.

In 2020, 473 were arrested, compared with 355 in 2021.

ICA said most of the immigration offenders employed by errant employers were working in the construction sector or as freelance house cleaners and odd-job workers.

Commenting on marriages of convenience, ICA said the number of people convicted of such offences has remained low, with five cases last year, down from six in 2020.

At its peak in 2013, there were 284 cases.

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