SINGAPORE - The owner of a struggling car grooming company turned to importing traditional cakes and pastries from Malaysia to help support his 10 children during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, a court heard on Monday (Aug 22).
Mohamed Dawood R.M. Abdul Sukkur, 48, who also owns a food distribution company, even worked part-time as a driver with ride-hailing service Uber to make ends meet.
But afraid that he would get caught for unlawfully importing nearly 40kg of "Ramly" beef patties without a licence, the businessman sped off from an inspection pit at Tuas Checkpoint in June 2015 - during the first week of Ramadan - sparking off a two-hour manhunt.
On Monday (Aug 22), Dawood was jailed for nine months and fined $8,000 for a spate of crimes. He will also be barred from driving for three years after his release from prison.
He pleaded guilty to four charges: obstructing a customs officer, perverting the course of justice, importing a meat product without a licence and dangerous driving.
Four other charges were taken into consideration in sentencing: one count of failing to make a declaration on dutiable goods, one charge of importing processed food without registration, and two counts of having cigarettes that had not passed through customs.
A district court heard that on June 23, 2015, Dawood drove to Malaysia at about 7am in a rented black BMW car to collect traditional cakes and pastries to supply to shops in Singapore.
He also went to a supermarket in Bandar Baru, Johor, to buy 105 packets of Ramly beef patties, weighing about 37.8kg in total, for RM400. He wanted to sell them to night market shops in Woodlands for a profit.
Dawood hid the beef patties in the spare tire compartment of the car and reached Tuas Checkpoint at about 11.35am.
After he had cleared immigration, however, ICA officers found discrepancies in Dawood's goods import permit and directed him to a full inspection pit for further checks.
He nodded his head to acknowledge this instruction. However, as he was driving towards the pit, he realised officers would discover that he had brought in the beef patties without a licence, the court heard.
"(Dawood) thus decided not to comply .... Instead, he stepped hard on the car accelerator and sped off out of Tuas Checkpoint," said Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Mansoor Amir.
After he left the checkpoint, Dawood travelled at about 142kmh along Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim towards Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE), and then at about 172kmh along the AYE towards the slip road to the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE).
Dawood drove at about 88kmh on the slip road, and at about 140kmh on the PIE from Tuas Road to Pasir Laba Flyover towards the East Coast Parkway, and then at about 90kmh from the flyover to PIE exit 38.
The car broke down at about 12.20pm along the PIE towards Changi Airport, near Pioneer Road North exit 38 and the entrance of Nanyang Technological University.
"Aware that the police would soon catch up to him and that the Ramly beef patties would incriminate him, (Dawood) thus disposed of the 105 packets of Ramly beef patties after his vehicle had broken down, before the police arrived," said DPP Mansoor. The businessman threw them away into an open drain along the PIE towards Changi Airport before PIE exit 38.
Policemen arrested Dawood when they arrived. Among other things, they found 145 boxes or packets of assorted traditional cakes and pastries weighing a total of 200kg, some of which were on the grass verge next to the car while others were inside the vehicle.
Dawood later led officers to the open drain where he had thrown the beef patties.
DPP Mansoor asked for eight to 10 months' jail and a fine of about $10,000. He also asked for a five-year driving ban.
Defence lawyer Noor Mohamed Marican asked for "a minimal fine" instead.
He said: "(Dawood) has realised his mistake and is remorseful. ... He is the sole breadwinner of his family and single-handedly maintaining 10 children.
"He is self-employed in the car grooming business and earns a low income because his business is struggling to survive amidst heavy competition. During the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, he usually imports traditional cakes and pastries to sell in Singapore, and makes a small profit to help sustain his family," said Mr Marican.
The lawyer added that Dawood panicked and drove out of the checkpoint in "a momentary lapse of judgment".
In sentencing, District Judge Lee Poh Choo said: "Entrepreneurship is encouraged but this is certainly not the way to go about it. From start to end, you contravened the law. The manner you kept the (patties) - hiding them in the spare tyre - would have caused health problems."
For obstructing a customs officer, Dawood could have been fined $10,000 and jailed for 18 months.
For perverting the course of justice, he could have been jailed for seven years and fined.
The maximum penalty for importing a meat product without a licence is a $50,000 fine and two years' jail for a first conviction, and subsequently, a $100,000 fine and three years' jail.
The maximum punishment for dangerous driving is a $3,000 and 12 months' jail for a first conviction, and subsequently, a $5,000 fine and two years' jail.