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Tougher penalties to curb tobacco smuggling [2011] 23 Nov_ST

Title: Tougher penalties to curb tobacco smuggling
Source: Straits Times
Author: Tessa Wong

Legal News Archive

TOBACCO and cigarette smugglers now face stiffer penalties, including mandatory jail time and increased fines.

These were among several changes made in Parliament yesterday to laws on Customs, goods and services tax (GST), and stamp duty.

Minister of State for Finance Josephine Teo explained the need to increase Customs enforcement.

She noted that from 2005 to last year, the number of tobacco-related Customs offences went up by 24 per cent. These offences range from smuggling and buying to selling and possessing cigarettes and tobacco products which have not had their duties paid.

Meanwhile, the number of repeat offenders in the same period increased by more than six times.

All repeat offenders now face an increased minimum court fine of S$4,000.

Repeat offenders caught with more than 2kg of tobacco products also face mandatory imprisonment.

First-time offenders caught with duty-unpaid cigarettes now face a minimum court fine of S$2,000.

Also, anyone who furnishes incorrect information to another for making declarations is now liable for prosecution.

This means Singapore Customs can now go after traders who use third- party agents to declare their consignments.

Information declared by traders can now be made available to domestic government agencies, in situations concerning public interest. But agencies will have to seek approval from the Finance Ministry, and the information would still be governed by the Official Secrets Act.

Some changes were made to improve administration and provide legal clarity.

These include the introduction of a summons system for minor offences; allowing agents to be appointed to recover unpaid duties; and allowing traders to keep electronic images of records instead of only the original hard copies.

Compressed natural gas (CNG) has now been made dutiable. The three-quarter tank rule for Singapore-registered vehicles going into Malaysia now applies to vehicles with CNG tanks too.

Dr Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) asked about the extent of Singapore Customs’ investment in new technology and information technology, how it keeps up with international trade alerts, and how Customs officers handle passengers with infectious diseases.

Mrs Teo said that Singapore Customs ‘intensively leverages’ on IT to improve operation efficiency, and, on Jan 1, it will launch the latest version of an electronic system for the clearance of trade documentation, called TradeNet.

It also actively monitors trade and sanction decisions by the United Nations, and enforces them through compliance and audit checks on companies.

Also passed yesterday were changes to laws on GST and stamp duty, some of which were announced in the Budget statement earlier this year. These include GST measures to promote the marine and biomedical sectors.

Among the changes was one to encourage people overseas to store high-value goods such as art pieces, antiques and gold in specialised facilities in Singapore, and to purchase related services such as auction, insurance and valuation of these goods.

Another change expands the scope for GST recovery – allowing local agents to recover GST on goods imported on behalf of overseas clients.

Where the Stamp Duty Act is concerned, the Government now allows for stamp duty relief for companies converting into a limited liability partnership, and has removed most $2 and $10 nominal and fixed stamp duties on documents.

Laws on stamp duty relief for mergers and acquisitions have been tweaked for greater consistency, and the Finance Minister can now waive conditions for any relief, remission or exemption of stamp duty for specific cases.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

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