Channel NewsAsia
Updated: 04/15/2014 19:39 | By Channel NewsAsia

High Court lays down sentencing benchmarks for tobacco smugglers

High Court lays down sentencing benchmarks for tobacco smugglers

High Court lays down sentencing benchmarks for tobacco smugglers

SINGAPORE: The High Court on Tuesday laid down sentencing benchmarks for customs offences involving the smuggling of more than two kilogrammes of tobacco products.

Chief Justice (CJ) Sundaresh Menon said hitherto there has not been any pronouncement setting out appropriate sentencing benchmarks for such offences.

The jail sentence range starts from three to six months for tobacco products weighing 2kg to 50kg, to 30 to 36 months' jail when the quantity smuggled in goes beyond 400kg. Quantity of Tobacco Product (kg) Sentencing Range (months) 2-50 3-6 51-100 6-12 101-200 12-18 201-300 18-24 301-400 24-30 > 400 30-36

The benchmarks apply when three criteria are met. First, that the offender was a first-time offender; second, the offender pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity; and third, the offender's role was limited to pure importation.

The benchmarks were laid down by CJ Menon in his written judgment released on Tuesday for an appeal case involving a Malaysian citizen who was caught on 25 October 2013 at the Woodlands Checkpoint for smuggling 161.4kg of contraband cigarettes into Singapore.

On 28 October 2013, 72-year-old Yap Ah Lai pleaded guilty in the District Court to two charges -- for evading excise duty of S$56,812.80, and for evading Goods and Services Tax (GST) of S$5,330.35.

The District Judge then sentenced Yap to 24 months' jail for the excise duty charge, and five months' imprisonment on the GST charge.

Both sentences were to run concurrently for an aggregate sentence of 24 months' imprisonment.

Yap appealed to the High Court against his sentence, on the grounds that it was manifestly excessive.

CJ Menon heard the appeal on February 14 this year.

On Tuesday, he ruled that the High Court would allow Yap's appeal.

The Chief Justice also cut the aggregate imprisonment period from 24 months to 15 months.

In his written judgement, CJ Menon said "the District Judge had failed to correctly apprehend the material before him".

He added that the sentencing benchmarks laid down in the High Court on Tuesday are "only starting points", and the judge, in arriving at the final sentence for such customs offences, "should then apply his mind to the circumstances of the case before him".  - CNA/gn

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