Online ads lured 25 drivers to smuggle duty-unpaid cigarettes into Singapore in 2018

A Facebook advertisement recruiting drivers to smuggle duty-unpaid cigarettes from Malaysia into Singapore.
A Facebook advertisement recruiting drivers to smuggle duty-unpaid cigarettes from Malaysia into Singapore.PHOTO: SINGAPORE CUSTOMS
Twenty-five drivers were caught after being lured by such online advertisements to smuggle duty-unpaid cigarettes from Malaysia in 2018.
Twenty-five drivers were caught after being lured by such online advertisements to smuggle duty-unpaid cigarettes from Malaysia in 2018.PHOTOS: SINGAPORE CUSTOMS
Twenty-five drivers were caught after being lured by such online advertisements to smuggle duty-unpaid cigarettes from Malaysia in 2018.
Twenty-five drivers were caught after being lured by such online advertisements to smuggle duty-unpaid cigarettes from Malaysia in 2018.PHOTOS: SINGAPORE CUSTOMS

SINGAPORE - Want to earn some extra cash while travelling to Malaysia? You can, according to a job posting on Facebook. But the catch is that those applying for the job will be smuggling cigarettes into Singapore.

Last year, 25 drivers were caught after being lured by such online advertisements to smuggle duty-unpaid cigarettes from Malaysia.

These advertisements, which were posted on social media platforms such as Facebook and WeChat, typically offered a payment ranging between $100 and $600 for every smuggling trip made into Singapore.

One such advertisement, written in Chinese, read: "If you often go to JB to pump petrol, please take a look. Our company is hiring a large number of Singaporean drivers who travel to JB to pump petrol (Malaysian friends who frequently visit Singapore are welcome too).

"This will not affect the working hours of your regular job. If you don't have a car we will provide one for you. We welcome those aged 22 to 55 years old to interview."

One person who responded to a similar advertisement was 45-year-old Singaporean Law Hwa Peng, who came across a Facebook advertisement offering high payments for drivers.

He responded to the advertisement and was offered $400 for every cigarette-smuggling trip he made. Law accepted the offer and was provided with a car, which he drove into Malaysia.

In Malaysia, duty-unpaid cigarettes were loaded into various modified compartments of the car.

On Nov 16, 2018, Law attempted to drive the car into Singapore but was arrested at Woodlands Checkpoint.

A total of 144 cartons and 1,143 packets of duty-unpaid cigarettes were found in the vehicle. The duty and goods and services tax (GST) evaded amounted to about $22,050 and $1,610 respectively.

The duty-unpaid cigarettes and the car were seized, and Law was later given a jail term of 20 weeks.

In another case, 25-year-old Malaysian Ku Kai Chien responded to a Facebook post recruiting drivers and was told to drive his own van into Malaysia, where a syndicate would load it with duty-unpaid cigarettes.

He was then asked to drive the van back to Singapore and promised $400 for a successful smuggling trip.

However, he was arrested at Tuas Checkpoint on March 21, 2018. A total of 201 cartons and 790 packets of duty-unpaid cigarettes were found concealed in various modified compartments of the van.

The duty and GST evaded in Ku's case amounted to about $23,910 and $1,750 respectively.

The duty-unpaid cigarettes and the van were seized, and Ku was later sentenced to six months in jail.

The other 23 drivers were all given jail terms of between 10 weeks and six months. The vehicles used in the smuggling attempts, which included cars and vans with modified compartments, were seized by the authorities.

Singapore Customs' assistant director-general of intelligence and investigation Yeo Sew Meng said: "Drivers who are hoping to make easy and quick money from the syndicates by smuggling duty-unpaid cigarettes into Singapore should think twice. They will end up paying a higher price when they are caught."

He added that Singapore Customs would take firm action against anyone who responds to such advertisements.

In response to queries, a Singapore Customs spokesman said that these advertisements are usually put up on social media platforms by unknown, overseas accounts. 

"They usually appear like a job advertisement for drivers, and the enquirers would be told that the job entails smuggling duty-unpaid cigarettes into Singapore only after further private messaging with the person posting the online advertisement," the spokesman said.

Those caught buying, selling, conveying, delivering, storing, keeping, having in possession or dealing with duty-unpaid goods can be fined up to 40 times the amount of duty and GST evaded, jailed for up to six years, or both.

Vehicles used in the commission of such offences may also be forfeited.

Members of the public with information on smuggling activities or evasion of customs duty or GST can call the Singapore Customs hotline on 1800-2330-000, e-mail customs_intelligence@customs.gov.sg or use the Customs@SG mobile app to report these illegal activities.