MFA scholar jailed 3 weeks for forging two e-mails over import of four pet birds

Jonathan Quek Zuo En was sentenced to three weeks in jail for forging e-mails in order to import his pet birds to Singapore.
Jonathan Quek Zuo En was sentenced to three weeks in jail for forging e-mails in order to import his pet birds to Singapore. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - A Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) scholarship holder loved his four pet birds so much that he decided to bring them home when he was completing his university studies in Japan.

Jonathan Quek Zuo En, 28, e-mailed the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) which informed him in August 2014 that, among other things, the birds have to be quarantined for 21 days before export and be free from avian flu.

In his reply, Quek said the Japanese quarantine office does not offer a quarantine service for pet birds, and asked if a veterinary health document would do.

AVA's veterinarian Dr Grace Sum Chi-En said in her Aug 27 e-mail that the 21-day pre-export isolation would still be required.

Quek was aware that Japan did not have any export requirements, but would follow the requirements of the importing country.

On Sept 15 that year, he e-mailed the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), Japan from home and attached Dr Sum's e-mail which he doctored.

He changed the date of her e-mail and period of pre-export isolation to seven days in AVA facilities post-arrival. He also said the avian influenza test could be done in Singapore.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Eugene Sng said contrary to what Quek had been told by Dr Sum, the changes he made to her e-mail conveyed the false impression that the 21-day pre-export isolation and avian flu test were not required for the birds to be exported to Singapore.

"The accused admitted during the course of investigations that he made the alterations 'out of convenience' and that he wanted to bring the birds back to Singapore 'without any hassle','' said the DPP.

The birds - a cockatiel, a green-cheeked conure, a barred parakeet and a Bourke's parakeet - were subsequently exported to Singapore.

On Oct 4, Quek was advised to contact the Japanese authorities to issue another set of veterinary certificates as the documents he produced to collect his birds at Changi Animal and Plant Quarantine Station did not comply with AVA requirements.

The birds were quarantined.

The station's manager, Mr Mercado Paulo Bien Lantican, asked Quek for the name and e-mail address of his contact at MAFF so that AVA could write to them directly.

On Oct 8, Mr Mercado received an email, purportedly belonging to MAFF quarantine officer Tatsuya Iwanaga, explaining the details of the paperwork.

DPP Sng said the e-mail was cooked up by Quek at his home.

"The accused did this by searching online for methods of sending 'spoof' e-mails,'' he said.

Quek's offences came to light later that month when Mr Mercado wrote to the Japanese quarantine officer who said he did not send the e-mail.

The birds were quarantined for seven days and released to Quek after being found healthy.

Quek's lawyers, Mr Sunil Sudheesan and Ms Diana Ngiam, said their client had just graduated with an economics degree at the University of Tokyo at the time.

Because of his actions which brought an end to his otherwise promising future, he left MFA and had to pay back $132,606 for the premature termination of his scholarship bond.

Counsel said Quek had served in the Americas Directorate and the Diplomatic Academy at the MFA. after his return from studies. He bore high hopes of being able to serve and contribute to Singapore as a diplomat.

Sentencing him to three weeks' jail on Friday (Oct 21), District Judge Lim Tse Haw said offences that could affect public health warrant a stiff sentence.

The offences were serious and a deterrent message must be sent that people cannot resort to forgery to circumvent the proper requirements laid down by AVA that are meant to protect Singapore's public and as a result, expose Singapore to potentially very serious public health risk, he said.

Quek could have been jailed for up to four years and/or jailed on each of the two charges. A third charge of giving false information to a public servant was taken into consideration.