Apex court clears businessman, firm of importing logs without permit
Court of Appeal court rules the rosewood logs were 'in transit'
In the final twist to a five-year saga involving Madagascan rosewood logs worth US$50 million (S$68 million), the Court of Appeal yesterday quashed the convictions of a Singaporean businessman and his trading company for importing the logs without a permit.
The decision by a five-judge court, set out in a 79-page written judgment, hinged on the interpretation of the term "transit" in the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act, which regulates the trade of specified species of animals and plants, including rosewood.
The court ruled that the rosewood brought into Singapore by Mr Wong Wee Keong, 58, and his company Kong Hoo was in transit, and was not imported.
Thus, the charges against Mr Wong and his company for importing the logs without a permit could not stand.
The court also ordered the 29,434 logs that the authorities had seized in March 2014 to be released to Mr Wong "as soon as was practicable".
He and his company were acquitted in 2015 when District Judge Jasvender Kaur dismissed the prosecution's case without calling for the defendants to answer to the charges.
She ruled that the rosewood was in transit as the logs were bound for Hong Kong.
The prosecution appealed to the High Court, and Justice See Kee Oon sent the case back for the trial to continue.
The district judge again acquitted Mr Wong and his company.
Again, the prosecution appealed.
The second set of acquittals was overturned by Justice See in March 2017. He ruled that for a shipment to be considered in transit, it was necessary to prove it would leave Singapore on a defined date.
Mr Wong was sentenced to three months' jail and the maximum $500,000 fine, while the company was sentenced to a $500,000 fine.
The defendants then took the case to the Court of Appeal, raising questions of law as to what constitutes a scheduled species "in transit".
The Act stipulates two conditions have to be satisfied for a scheduled species to be considered in transit.
First, it has to be brought into Singapore for the "sole purpose" of taking it out of Singapore. The question raised was whether it is necessary to prove that the goods would leave Singapore on a defined date.
Second, if the goods are removed from the vessel in which they were brought into Singapore, they have to be under the "control" of an authorised officer.
In the current case, the court said the prosecution failed to establish a case that required rebuttal.
The court accepted that the "control" condition was satisfied because the rosewood was under the physical control of Singapore Customs.
As for the "sole purpose" condition, the court cited the evidence from the managing director of the logistics company, indicating the rosewood was to be shipped to Hong Kong.
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