More powers for authorities to fight organised crime

A police dog sniffing boxes at the Tuas checkpoint.
A police dog sniffing boxes at the Tuas checkpoint. PHOTO: ST FILE

A new law which gives the authorities wide-ranging powers against criminal syndicates was introduced in Parliament yesterday.

Mr S. Iswaran, Second Minister for Home Affairs, said in Parliament that the Organised Crime Bill would help detect, investigate, prevent and disrupt organised crime activities, and deprive criminals involved in such activities of the benefits of their crimes.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said in a statement yesterday that activities of organised crime groups - which can include drug trafficking, money laundering and unlicensed moneylending - posed a serious security threat.

"These activities are often trans- national in nature, with criminal groups operating across several countries and, oftentimes, with the leaders operating from outside Singapore," the ministry said.

It added that the Bill was a pre-emptive move to prevent organised crime groups from taking root in Singapore.

The Bill defines an organised crime group as three or more people involved in serious crimes for the purpose of material or financial benefit. It would give law enforcement agencies more investigative powers and beef up punishment for serious crimes, such as drug trafficking and corruption, if committed as part of an organised crime group.

The Bill also introduces a civil confiscation regime, which allows the courts to confiscate benefits from organised criminal activities without a conviction. The courts can do so if the public prosecutor can prove on a "balance of probabilities" that an individual has committed the crimes. This means that if it can be proved that the crime was probable, the courts can confiscate the benefits. Such a move requires a lower burden of proof than a criminal conviction, which requires guilt to be proven beyond reasonable doubt. This confiscation regime is similar to the one already in place for serious offences such as drug trafficking and corruption.

The Bill would also give the courts powers to issue preventive orders that would place prohibitions or restrictions on the activities of individuals or organisations involved in organised crime.

In developing the Bill, the ministry said it studied the laws and practices of other jurisdictions, such as Britain, Hong Kong, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organised Crime.

It added that consultations were also held with the judiciary and legal fraternity on its key features.

The idea for such a Bill was mooted in 2012, at the national Budget debate. Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said then: "We want to send the strongest possible signal that we will not allow organised crime to take root in Singapore."

Yesterday, Mr Alvin Yeo (Chua Chu Kang GRC), who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, called the Bill a welcome move, and lauded the fact that it recognised the transnational nature of modern crime. "One of the most effective measures of fighting these criminal activities is the confiscation of benefits from these organisations. It will hit them where it hurts."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2015, with the headline 'More powers for authorities to fight organised crime'. Subscribe