Photo of foreign workers arrested from The New Paper

According to a media release by the Singapore Customs today (Jan 12), more China foreign workers were arrested in 2016 for selling duty-unpaid cigarettes in Singapore. 6 were arrested in the first half of 2016 and 9 were arrested in the second half.

Using China-based mobile applications like WeChat and Shi Cheng BBS, the China foreign workers working in Singapore collaborate with criminal syndicates to distribute duty-unpaid cigarettes. In some cases, employers’ vehicles were used in delivery.

In a specific high profile case, the Singapore Customs revealed that a 36-year-old China foreign worker was arrested on 9 December 2016 for delivering the illegal cigarettes hidden in display stands at his company building in Tuas. Around $186,940 in duties and $18,820 in Goods and Services Tax (GST) were evaded for the 2,409 cartons of duty-unpaid cigarettes seized in this single case.

In another case highlighted by the Singapore Customs, two China foreign workers were jailed 4 months and fined S$1,000 to S$1,250 for distributing illegal cigarettes.

Assistant director-general of the Singapore customs spoke to the media cautioning employers to keep an eye on foreign workers who are allowed to drive home company vehicles:

“We urge employers who allow their workers to drive company vehicles outside working hours to closely monitor the use of the vehicle by their employees. This will help to prevent company vehicles from being misused for illegal activities, and avoid any inconvenience and financial loss to the vehicle owners.”

Duty-unpaid cigarettes are especially popular in Singapore due to the high taxes levied on cigarettes in Singapore. A pack of Malboro cigarettes cost S$13 in Singapore while duty-unpaid cigarettes goes at less than half the price at around S$5 per pack.

As there is no Minimum Wage in Singapore, Singapore is highly-reliant on cheap foreign labour to build the country’s infrastructural and housing needs. A foreign worker in the construction industry earns about S$700 a month for a 44-hour work-week, and S$4 an hour for overtime. Foreign workers in Singapore have minimal employment rights and are housed in overcrowded dormitories in inhumane conditions. Due to abject poverty, many foreign workers are often lured by criminal syndicates to earn a quick buck.