SINGAPORE: On Tuesday (14 Nov), a 26-year-old Malaysian man was fined S$30,000 (US$22,237) for understating the cash amount he brought into Singapore on two occasions.
Acting as a money carrier responsible for transporting his overseas clients’ funds to Singapore for currency exchange, the Malaysian, Bryan Woo Kah Hou, failed to declare the approximately S$3 million he was carrying during two separate trips.
It’s mandatory to submit a declaration for amounts exceeding S$20,000 when entering or leaving Singapore.
He admitted guilt to two charges under the Corruption, Drug Trafficking, and Other Serious Crimes Act for moving cash in and out of Singapore without accurate declaration. An additional similar charge was considered during sentencing.
Each charge of moving cash in and out of Singapore without an accurate report carried a potential penalty of up to three years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to S$50,000, or both.
Malaysian worker transported currencies for conversion, court hears
As reported by Singapore media TODAY, The court was informed that during the time of these offenses, the Malaysian was employed as a money carrier at Million Serenity, a currency exchange company based in Sarawak, Malaysia, owned by his wife’s uncle.
The court heard that the company specialized in transporting currencies to Singapore.
As part of his job, Woo gathered funds in Brunei and Singapore dollars from customers in Brunei and transported them to Singapore for conversion into Malaysian ringgit.
After converting the funds into Malaysian ringgit in Singapore, Woo would either return the Malaysian currency to his clients in Brunei or have it remitted there.
Singapore and Brunei possess a currency interchangeability agreement. This agreement allows both countries to accept each other’s currency at a one-to-one exchange rate, ensuring that both currencies hold equal value.
On June 15 of this year, Woo was residing with his wife, Michelle Lu, at her relative’s residence in Brunei. On that particular night, Woo was in the process of completing the mandatory Singapore Physical Currency and Bearer Negotiable Instruments declaration form.
This task followed Ms Lu’s interactions with clients of Million Serenity to gather funds intended for transportation to Singapore.
Ms Lu held a managerial position at Million Serenity, a company her father was involved in managing as well.
Instructions to under-declare funds to evade scrutiny and investigation by Singapore authorities on fund source
Upon inquiry regarding the amount to be declared, Woo asked Ms Lu, who then contacted her father to relay that she had gathered over B$1,000,000 (S$1,000,000) and sought guidance on the appropriate declared amount.
Acting on her father’s instructions, Ms Lu directed Woo to declare sums of B$428,000 and S$30,000 on the declaration form.
Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) David Koh highlighted that Woo, Ms Lu, and her father were fully aware that the declared amount was significantly less than what Woo was actually transporting to Singapore.
Woo deduced that his father-in-law was apprehensive that an accurate declaration of the substantial amount might prompt authorities to investigate the source of the funds.
The subsequent day, after Woo received an additional sum from a client at Brunei International Airport, he boarded a flight from Brunei to Singapore, arriving at Changi Airport Terminal 2.
Despite being conscious of carrying more than S$1,000,000 in both Bruneian and Singapore currencies, Woo submitted his inaccurate currency declaration form to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officer.
Subsequently, he was permitted to pass through the immigration checkpoint without detection.
False declarations unveiled
On June 20, Woo traveled from Brunei to Singapore, accompanied by his brother-in-law, Eddie Lu, for added security.
Their arrival at approximately 11:40 am was met by the attention of ICA officer Neo Chee Nam, who signaled for them to run their bags through an X-ray machine as they approached the exit of the arrival hall.
Initially intending to hand over the currency declaration form to Officer Neo, Woo was directed to proceed with the X-ray examination of the bags first.
The completed form indicated that Woo was carrying B$468,000 and S$37,500. However, investigations revealed that he was actually in possession of B$1,953,818 and S$25,235, equivalent to S$1,979,053, as highlighted by DPP Koh.
While examining the form, Officer Neo inquired about the types and quantities of currencies Woo was carrying. Woo’s responses were vague.
When questioned about the amount of Brunei currency he had, Woo ambiguously mentioned “Brunei 400 something,” leaving the officer seeking clarification on whether it was B$400,000 or a different amount.
Regarding the Singapore currency, Woo mentioned it was around “30 plus thousand,” unable to recall the exact figure.
Observing Woo’s nervousness, Officer Neo advised him to take a seat and reconsider his responses. Subsequently, Woo attempted to complete a second currency declaration form after contacting his wife for guidance on the carried amount and what to declare.
However, instead of accurately stating the amount, Woo erroneously declared B$1,827,068 and S$135,000 in the second form.
Upon receiving the second form, Officer Neo noticed discrepancies between the declared amounts for Brunei and Singapore currencies compared to the initial declaration.
Failing to provide satisfactory explanations upon questioning, Woo’s case was escalated to an ICA supervisor who, in turn, contacted the police due to the inconsistencies and lack of clarity in Woo’s statements.
Seeking a fine of S$15,000 for each charge, DPP Koh emphasized that the currency reporting system aims to deter criminal exploitation of Singapore’s financial system.
DPP Koh stated that providing an inaccurate declaration’s intention is to dissuade immigration officers from conducting thorough checks by creating a semblance of compliance.
Even after being stopped, Woo didn’t rectify his deliberate errors and later admitted to the police that he intentionally under-declared the carried sums.
While Woo’s motive might have been convenience, it was an insufficient justification to bypass or weaken Singapore’s reporting system, critical in safeguarding against money laundering, as highlighted by DPP Koh.
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