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The Straits Times
Dec 23, 2022
An enforcement officer who was authorised to apprehend offenders for having illegal tobacco-related products ended up pocketing more than $1,000 worth of those that were voluntarily disposed of by incoming travellers at the airport.
Mohan Raj Akilan, 31, was sentenced to three months’ jail and fined $800 on Friday after he pleaded guilty to one charge of receiving stolen property and another charge of possessing an imitation tobacco product.
Another charge was taken into consideration during the Malaysian’s sentencing.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Hsiao Tien said Mohan was employed by Certis Cisco Auxiliary Police Force as an enforcement officer between April 19, 2011, and Aug 8, 2022.
He was deployed around May 2021 to the enforcement operation unit under the Tobacco Regulation Branch (TRB) of the Health Sciences Authority (HSA), which outsourced tobacco enforcement works to Certis.
One of the duties of officers in that branch is to collect prohibited tobacco-related products that were voluntarily disposed of by travellers entering Singapore via Changi Airport.
They can dispose of these products without any repercussions by filling up a voluntary disposal receipt and an immigration officer will discard the item in a bin, which is locked.
Every week or whenever the bins are full or nearly full, HSA will issue ad hoc requests to Certis to collect the items that will eventually be destroyed at an incineration plant in Tuas.
Some time in 2021 and 2022, DPP Tan said several TRB officers tasked to perform the collection began misappropriating contraband cigarettes, e-vaporisers and e-vaporiser pod products after they realised there was an opportunity for them to do so.
They realised that no other staff member would be around when they transferred the discarded items into empty black bins.
They also realised there was no record of the amount, description or weight of the items collected and no procedure to ensure that the items collected tallied with the items declared in the disposal receipts.
So, the officers pocketed a portion of the contraband items when transferring the contents into the black bins and packed them in a separate plastic bag.
After the remaining products were packed into the black bins, they kept the separate plastic bag in the Certis van parked at the carpark.
The misappropriated items would then be shared among the team of TRB officers on collection duty at the airport.
On some occasions, they would also share the misappropriated items with other TRB officers, including Mohan.
DPP Tan said: “Gradually, the sharing of misappropriated items among the Certis TRB officers became an ‘open secret’ or ‘unspoken rule’ among them.”
Some time between June and July 2021, Mohan received $1,417 worth of tobacco-related products, including 40 packs of e-vaporiser pods and seven e-vaporisers, from a fellow enforcement officer.
For receiving stolen property, he could have been jailed for up to five years, fined, or both.
Meanwhile, another officer from the same unit was jailed on Friday for three weeks for forging forms documenting illegal tobacco products he had confiscated from trainee officers.
Mohamad Nor Amali Halmi, a 35-year-old Malaysian, who was employed by People Advantage, a member of the Certis Group, got the trainee officers to sign on the initial documents he sent to his team supervisor.
But when his supervisor could not locate the documents, Amali forged a new set of documents after he could not get the trainees to sign them again.