Smuggling is a severe offence in Singapore for many reasons – and it is punished harshly under The Customs Act 1960 (“CA”). The offence significantly threatens Singapore’s national security and public health, undermining the economy.
Common items smuggled like contraband cigarettes (E-vaporisers), pose direct risks to consumers and public health. Conversely, smuggling dangerous items that encourage violence, such as weapons, can threaten public safety and security.
Singaporean authorities demonstrate the seriousness of smuggling through heightened measures such as increased surveillance, border checks, and stiffer penalties.
What are the Requirements of an Offence?
Under Section 128E of The Customs Act, an individual commits the offence of smuggling when they deny having any dutiable or prohibited goods in their baggage or upon their person – but is found to be in possession of it regardless.
Pursuant to Section 128L(5A)(c) of the CA, a person guilty of an offence shall, on conviction, be punished with imprisonment for up to 6 years, with a fine of up to $20,000, or both.
Offenders may settle out of Court by payment of a sum of composition, for the relatively minor offences Checkpoints offences, such as failing to declare cigarettes brought in to Singapore, or leaving Singapore in a car with less than ¾ full tank.
The amounts differ depending on the type of Customs-related offence committed. A detailed breakdown can be found on the official Customs website. If the matter is not compounded, offenders may have to be prosecuted in Court.
Aside from payment of composition, it should be noted that at first instance, offenders have the option of appealing against their offence through an Appeal Form submitted through the government’s portal. Appeals are to be supported by relevant supporting documents and each will be considered in turn.
In September 2022, Singapore customs arrested 2 men for smuggling more than 3,700 cartons of duty-unpaid cigarettes into Singapore.
Singapore customs uncovered 3,744 cartons of duty-unpaid cigarettes wrapped in black trash bags and 288 empty green baskets in a unit at an industrial building near Corporation Drive. The men allegedly used the baskets to mask the duty-unpaid cigarettes. The total duty and goods and services tax (GST) evaded amounted to about $319,730 and $25,440, respectively.
Penalty for Smuggling Cigarettes (Tobacco)
Under the Customs Act, a first offender who smuggles more than 2kg of tobacco products faces a fine of up to 20 times the duty or tax avoided or jail of up to three years or both.
A first offender whose role is limited to importation and who smuggles between 2kg and 50kg of tobacco should be sentenced to three to six months imprisonment.
The penalties for smuggling cigarettes are as follows:
- 2kg to 50kg – three to six months imprisonment
- 51kg to 100kg – six months to a year imprisonment
- 101kg to 200kg – one to one and half years imprisonment
- 201kg to 300kg – one and a half years to two years imprisonment
- 301kg to 400kg – two to two and half years imprisonment
- More than 400kg – two and half three years imprisonment
Read more: Smoking Laws in Singapore
Frequently Asked Questions on Smuggling
Can I be charged with smuggling if I didn’t personally bring in or take out the goods?
Under Section 128F of the CA, you can be charged with smuggling even if you did not personally transport the goods. If you were involved in the smuggling operation’s planning, facilitation, or concealment, you could be considered an accomplice and liable for the offence.
Can I claim ignorance as a defence if I am caught smuggling in Singapore?
According to Section 79A of the Penal Code, ignorance is not a defence for smuggling in Singapore. Even if you did not know that the goods you were transporting were illegal or required to be declared at customs, you could still be charged with smuggling.
Can I face both civil and criminal charges for smuggling in Singapore?
Pursuant to Section 10(3) of the CA, you can face both civil and criminal charges for smuggling in Singapore.
The Singapore Customs may take civil action to recover the unpaid duty and taxes on the smuggled goods as a civil debt due to the Government, in addition to pursuing criminal charges against you.
What can GJC Law do to Help?
Advise on the legal implications: Here at GJC, our team can assist to break down the elements of the various offences listed under the Customs Act to provide you with legal advice on your rights, the charges you are likely to face, the potential penalties, as well as any defences that might be available to you. If applicable, our team can also assist to advise on appealing against the offence.
Court representation: Our legal team can also represent you should the matter proceed to Court. Court representation includes a storied history of precedents to rely on, preparing legal arguments, raising any defences you might choose to rely on, and more.
Addressing Civil Debt: Our lawyers are well-equipped to review the civil debt owed and ensure that it has been correctly calculated and assessed per the offence committed. If there are any discrepancies or issues with the debt, our team can challenge the Singapore Customs’ assessment of the amount owed.
Payment Plans: In addition, our team will be able to aid you through negotiation with the Singapore Customs, to either reduce payment of the debt owed or to seek a repayment plan that suits your financial capabilities. Negotiations can involve working with Customs to identify options such as instalment plans, a reduced lump sum, or waivers of interest or penalties.