Vietnamese contraband cigarette distribution leader fined, jailed

A Vietnamese man in charge of a Vietnamese contraband cigarette distribution operation was sentenced on Tuesday to 16 months' jail, and fined $14,000.

Tran Dinh Hieu, 33, was nabbed with 17 other Vietnamese nationals in a joint operation by Singapore Customs, the Singapore Police Force, and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) on June 27 last year. This was the most number of Vietnamese nationals arrested in a single operation by Singapore Customs in 2012, as well as the fourth Vietnamese distribution ring apprehended since 2010.

Enforcement officers from the various agencies spotted seven men leaving an apartment on East Coast Road at intervals, carrying bags suspected to contain contraband cigarettes. Two men were also observed alighting from a taxi and carrying a box to the apartment.

A search of the men revealed 1,373 packets of duty-unpaid cigarettes on them. They were promptly arrested. The officers then raided the apartment, taking four men and four women into custody. A sweep of the apartment revealed a further 717 packets of duty-unpaid cigarettes stashed in several bags.

A total of 2,090 packets of duty-unpaid cigarettes were seized in the operation, worth over $22,000. The total duty and goods and service tax (GST) evaded came up to more than $18,000.

For their involvement in the distribution ring, 10 of the Vietnamese have been sentenced to jail terms between 12 to 22 weeks and fines of between $5,100 and $25,000 each. Possessing, buying or selling duty-unpaid goods is a violation of the Customs Act and the GST Act.

Offenders can be fined up to 40 times the amount of duty evaded and/or jailed for up to six years.

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