SMUGGLERS are adapting their methods to elude the border authorities. From hiding contraband in broken-down buses being towed across the Causeway to concealing cigarette cartons within concrete slabs, smugglers these days are a different breed from those of old who simply stowed the stash in makeshift vehicle compartments, for example.
The observation on their modus operandi came as officers from the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) thwarted a record number of smuggling attempts in the first half of this year.
The 23,800 smuggling cases – which included weapons, cigarettes and animals – were the highest number handled by the officers since the ICA was set up in 2003. The figure also represented a 35 per cent spike from the 17,700 cases the ICA detected in the first six months last year.
The ICA credited the spike to the skill and vigilance of its officers, and the deployment of technology like its X-ray screening systems in detecting the contraband items.
In releasing the figures on Friday, ICA Commissioner Eric Tan, said: ‘While these ingenious disguises usually involve contraband cigarettes today, we are mindful that other more sinister persons or items may similarly attempt to get into the Republic.’ The ICA noted how smugglers have become more ‘deceptive’.
Twice this year, for example, syndicates deployed tow-trucks to ‘innocuously’ pull in broken-down buses across the Causeway at peak periods like the Chinese New Year and June school holidays. Hidden within the buses were 850,000 sticks of contraband cigarettes.
In all, more than 730,000 packets, or nearly 15 million sticks of illegal cigarettes worth about $6.6 million have been confiscated at the checkpoints so far this year – nearly doubling last year’s figures over the same period. Smokers are drawn to contraband cigarettes because of the huge price differential. A pack of illegal cigarettes costs $5 compared to about $10 for duty-paid cigarettes.
A similar spike was also seen in the number of cases involving smuggled weapons confiscated at the checkpoints: from 1,800 cases last year to 3,300 this year. These included air rifles, replica guns, samurai swords and even live bullets. In January, the ICA found 150 flick knives, each nearly 20cm long, in the luggage of three Malaysians at Changi Airport. The weapons showed up in X-ray machines.
Those who try to sneak in contraband weapons often claim that they bought the items as souvenirs but these pose a security threat as they can be used by criminals and terrorists, the ICA spokesman said.
However, the measures adopted by the ICA has also made it difficult for illegal immigrants to sneak in, the ICA added. Those caught for sneaking into Singapore or staying here illegally remained constant at about 3,300 in the first half of 2008 and this year – a far cry from 2005 when there were more than 6,100 cases. Those arrested for harbouring and employing them have also dropped.