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Customs officers win awards for deeds ranging from busting crooks to helping businesses

He began his career as a Singapore Customs officer in 2010 overseeing raids on suspects who had stashed contraband cigarettes in tissue boxes in cars at the checkpoints and in lockers at worksites.

Since 2020, Deputy Chief Superintendent of Customs Muhammad Suffyan Tumadi, assistant head of Schemes and Engagement, has been a trade facilitator who assists companies in their application of the various Customs schemes.

In conjunction with International Customs Day on Thursday, Mr Suffyan was among more than 300 customs officers who received Singapore Customs Good Service Medals and Long Service Medals.

Mr Suffyan, 38, a former prosecution officer, was awarded the Customs Service Medal (10 years).

He noted that his current role is not much different from his previous job, which was people-oriented as he had to deal with lawyers, judges and investigators.

“Similarly, in my current job as a trade facilitator, I have to understand the needs of companies – different companies have different needs and different challenges,” he told The Straits Times.

Two investigators from the Trade Investigation Branch and Special Investigation Branch respectively, who wanted to be known only as Mr Ang, 38, and Mr Lee, 33, because they often go undercover as part of their work, received a Staff Award, Outstanding Project (Enforcement).

The pair led an investigation against a parallel importer who had allegedly evaded more than $3 million in duties and goods and services tax (GST) on more than 1,800 imported cars.

Mr Lee said that picking up the evidence trail of suspects who try to dodge taxes or make fraudulent declarations is not always easy.

When the investigators make surprise visits, suspects can become uncooperative and refuse them entry into the premises despite the officers identifying themselves and producing search warrants.

“Usually, we work the ground to look for evidence to build our case,” said Mr Lee, noting there are also operational considerations such as the security of the place they are in and the safety of their personnel.

Different modus operandi

He added that offenders have different ways of keeping track of their own finances, with some relying on the old-school pen and paper while others have progressed to high-tech spreadsheet software.

Customs officers are known to bust peddlers of contraband cigarettes by disguising themselves, such as wearing a sarong to blend in with foreign workers, and using surveillance techniques to keep track of large shipments of duty-unpaid cigarettes until their final destination.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Singapore Customs uncovered a trend of syndicates attempting to smuggle duty-unpaid cigarettes by concealing them in a container among shipments belonging to multiple consignees.

In 2021, Singapore Customs collected $10.14 billion in revenue from customs and excise duties on tobacco, liquors, petroleum, motor vehicle, and GST from imports.

For new companies wanting to expand their business, they would need to understand the procedures and product codes of goods being shipped to Singapore.

This is where Higher Superintendent of Customs Muhammad Firdaus Roslan, 38, and Chief Superintendent of Customs Yeo Ban Meng, 48, come in.

They each received a Staff Award, Outstanding Project (Trade), for their work on the review and implementation of the Asean Harmonised Tariff Nomenclature (AHTN) in 2022.

In simple terms, every product is assigned a code and, depending on the code, traders would know which products are subject to excise duties or need to follow various regulations.

The AHTN was jointly developed by Asean member states (AMS), such as Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, to promote uniform classification of goods and facilitate trade within Asean.

The review took into consideration amendments to the Harmonised System (HS) by the World Customs Organisation, technology changes, international trade patterns and proposals submitted by AMS.

Nineteen project teams and four individuals were also recognised with various staff awards such as Service Excellence, Trade, ProEnterprise, Enforcement and Innovation.

Mr Tan Hung Hooi, director-general of Singapore Customs, said during the ceremony at the NTUC Auditorium that in the next year, Singapore Customs will continue with its efforts to “build a future-ready workforce, and push ahead with capability-building, especially in data and digitalisation”.

“As we transform our work and upskill our officers, it is also important that our officers find purpose in their work, and we continue to deliver on our mission,” said Mr Tan.  

SINGAPORE CUSTOMSTRADETAX EVASION