Parliamentary Question by Mr Gan Thiam Poh:
To ask the Minister for Finance (a) in the past five years, how many cases of illegal sales of contraband cigarettes have been reported and the sellers charged; (b) how many of them caught in such illegal activity are locals and foreigners respectively; and (c) whether the existing penalty is sufficient to deter such illegal activity or to encourage the sellers to work with authorities to locate the ultimate beneficiary.
Parliamentary Reply by Minister for Finance Mr Heng Swee Keat:
Strong enforcement efforts and close-interagency collaboration have kept the peddling of contraband cigarettes in check. From 2012 to 2016, the number of peddlers caught remained relatively stable, averaging about 400 per year. About 80% of those arrested were charged in court, while the rest were issued a composition sum or stern warning.
In the same period, the total number of contraband cigarette offenders caught each year, which includes smugglers, peddlers and buyers, fell by 29% from 28,502 in 2012 to 20,147 in 2016.
The Member also asked whether existing penalties are sufficient deterrents. In 2012, we enhanced the penalties for dealing in contraband cigarettes. Upon conviction, for first time offenders, a minimum court fine of $2,000 would be imposed, and the maximum court fine is 20 times the amount of the taxes evaded. For repeat offenders caught with more than 2kg of contraband tobacco products, mandatory imprisonment for up to 6 years was also introduced. To date, our penalties have been effective in keeping the contraband cigarette situation in check.
Singapore Customs will continue to work with other enforcement agencies to deter the buying and selling of contraband cigarettes. We will also continue to actively engage the public to raise awareness on this issue.