Rosewood case: Boss gets 3 months' jail, $500k fine; firm fined $500k

The Rosewood logs were seized from a vessel berthed at Jurong Port in March 2014. PHOTO: AVA

SINGAPORE - A Singaporean businessman, whose company imported US$50 million (S$70 million) worth of rosewood logs from Madagascar without a permit, was on Friday (April 28) sentenced to three months' jail and a $500,000 fine by the High Court.

Wong Wee Keong's company, Kong Hoo, was also fined $500,000.

In March 2014, more than 29,000 logs were seized from a vessel berthed at Jurong Port. The 3,235-tonne confiscation is reportedly the largest-ever of rosewood made in the world, said the prosecution, which had sought at least 18 months' jail for Wong.

In sentencing, Justice See Kee Oon noted that while the punishment should deter those thinking of making lucrative profits from endangered wildlife, the current case was not one of transnational organised wildlife crime.

"While the rosewood had been illegally brought into Singapore, the evidence does not go to show that it had been illegally sourced and smuggled," said Justice See, who also ordered the logs to be forfeited.

Lawyer Murali Pillai, representing Wong and the firm, asked for the sentences to be stayed as his clients intend to seek permission to file a criminal reference to refer two questions of law of public interest to the Court of Appeal.

The stay was approved and Wong's bail was extended.

Rosewood is a controlled species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), to which Singapore is a signatory. Under Singapore's Endangered (Import and Export) Species Act, rosewood cannot be imported without a permit from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore.

Wong and his firm were first acquitted in 2015 midway through the trial without their defence being called. A district judge ruled the logs were in transit, rather than being imported, as they were eventually bound for Hong Kong.

The prosecution appealed to the High Court, which sent the case back for the trial to continue. The district judge again acquitted Wong and his firm. Again, the prosecution appealed.

The second set of acquittals was overturned by the Justice See last month.

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