Man found with 17 passports fails in appeal, gets 1 year's jail

He had no reasonable excuse for taking passports to S'pore: Court

A Chinese national who was discovered with the passports of 17 people when he arrived at Changi Airport, and could not account for them, failed yesterday in his appeal against being convicted and was sentenced to a year's jail.

All the passports were from the People's Republic of China and were in the hand luggage of Ma Wenjie, 30, who flew to Singapore from Beijing on March 5 last year.

Ma appealed to the High Court against his conviction and sentence by a district court last year for having possession of the passports without a "reasonable excuse" under the Passports Act.

The sole issue on appeal was whether Ma had a "reasonable excuse" as provided in the Act and what would constitute such an excuse.

Ma said he had been asked by a Mr Habibu, whom he met when working in Saudi Arabia in 2015, to take passports to Singapore that a contact would give him before he left Beijing.

However, he conceded that he did not actually know the purpose of taking the passports to Singapore and he "assumed" they were meant for visa applications to Saudi Arabia.

After his arrest, he produced a letter from Bahrain-based Zangari Travel & Tourism stating that he was a travel agent taking Chinese tourists to Arabian Gulf countries and that he held the 17 passports for visas to be issued from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

But it turned out in court that the contents of the Zangari letter were untrue and that it had been issued to Ma to help exonerate him after his arrest.

Ma's lawyer, Mr Peter Ong Lip Cheng, argued on appeal that Ma had a reasonable excuse to have the passports since Mr Habibu, as an agent for Zangari, had given him the implied authority to take them to Singapore for visa processing.

However, Deputy Public Prosecutor Ang Feng Qian countered that Ma did not have a reasonable excuse since he had no information whatsoever at the time on why he had to take the passports to Singapore.

Justice See Kee Oon, in judgment grounds yesterday, said that what constitutes a reasonable excuse would depend on the facts and circumstances of each case, "from the perspective of a reasonable person in the accused's shoes at the relevant time of the offence".

Justice See said it was not reasonable for Ma to agree to do his Saudi friend a favour without finding out "at all what he was carrying the passports into Singapore for".

He noted that the investigating officer's probe did not show the 17 passports were to be used for illegal purposes.

The judge ruled that it was unnecessary to determine whether the passports were in fact being taken into Singapore for visa applications, because Ma's "mere belief and complete failure to inquire into the reason for his possession of the passports are insufficient to establish a defence of reasonable excuse on a balance of probabilities".

He dismissed the appeals and Ma started serving his jail term yesterday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2018, with the headline 'Man found with 17 passports fails in appeal, gets 1 year's jail'. Print Edition | Subscribe