Fined over $28m for mastermind behind biggest S’pore syndicate involving unpaid alcohol

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SINGAPORE — Two men orchestrated a scheme that has become the largest and longest-running syndicated operation involving unpaid liquor discovered in Singapore. The total amount of taxes evaded was approximately $25 million.

The syndicate diverted, for local sale, unpaid alcohol intended for consumption on board ships calling at Singapore, fraudulently avoiding excise duty as well as Goods and Services Tax (GST) payable on drinks.

One of the masterminds, Lim Wei Luen, now 41, pleaded guilty to two counts under the Customs Act relating to the fraudulent evasion of excise duties and GST totaling more than $3,114,858.16. Sixteen other counts were considered at sentencing.

On Thursday (July 14), he was fined $28,033,723.44, nine times the amount evaded.

Lim will spend six years and eight months behind bars if he is unable to pay the fine.

The other mastermind, Teo Tian Soon, also known as Muhammad Ridwan Teo, 56, was previously sentenced to a year in prison and fined nearly $48 million.

Several other offenders linked to the case, including Teo’s nephew, Sheir Azman Mohamed Khalid, 33, and Vernon Quek Beng Yong, 47, were also brought to trial earlier.

The court heard that Singapore Customs allows the supply of alcohol to ships calling here for crew members to consume. Suppliers of these liquors and other items – collectively referred to as “sea shops” – are known as ship chandlers.

The two main terminals in Singapore used for ship supply purposes are Marina South Wharves (MSW) and Penjuru Terminal.

Ship chandlers buy alcohol from suppliers whose stocks are held in licensed warehouses.

The warehouse will then make a declaration through the Singapore Customs online system for a Cargo Clearance Permit with the prefix “OX” to be issued.

This allows alcohol to be removed from storage.

When unpaid liquor is sent to Penjuru Terminal or MSW, OX permits must be endorsed by an Auxiliary Police Officer (APO) on duty at the gates of entry.

He will mark the documents with his APO stamp and the unpaid alcohol can then be transported to the recipient vessel.

Teo and Lim came up with their plan after they met in 2017. At the time, Teo was a ship supplier.

The scheme involved purchasing non-duty paid alcohol from a supplier, creating fictitious entities to report as exporters, and falsifying OX permits.

Nine fictitious entities were formed and Azman, then working as a shipping agent at MSW, ran two of them.

Azman also shared with Teo, his uncle, the names of the APOs in service and the ships that would call at the docks. Teo forged OX permits and made a copy of an APO stamp in Malaysia to avoid detection.

OX permits would then be falsely endorsed, for example by using the false APO stamp.

The men’s offenses came to light on November 7, 2019, after Singapore Customs carried out an operation to arrest suspects involved in the syndicate, the court heard.

Lim was represented by attorneys Josephus Tan and Cory Wong of Invictus Law Corporation.

They said in their mitigating plea that their client cooperated with authorities and that his guilty plea should be duly admitted.

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