Illegal cigarette peddlers back at Yew Tee
Just over three months after a clampdown, they are back selling illegal smokes and more careful than before
They are back. And they appear to be more organised than ever.
About four months after Yew Tee Industrial Estate was rid of illicit cigarette peddlers last year, it seems they have returned.
In September last year, a raid netted 21 foreigners and more than 1,100 packets of contraband cigarettes.
For almost a decade, the estate has had a reputation for being a hotbed of contraband cigarette activities and it continues to be on the authorities' radar. (See report below).
The latest group of about 10 peddlers operating there seemed better organised and more alert.
For three days last week, The New Paper observed how they ran their illicit business.
Like clockwork, cyclists - alone or in pairs - make their way from Sungei Kadut Avenue to the vast Rail Corridor in the late afternoons.
They head towards Yew Tee Industrial Estate about 1km away.
Carrying backpacks or plastic bags placed in their bicycles' baskets, these cyclists - who look like foreign workers at the end of a work day - take about 10 minutes to reach a small trail that leads to an area concealed by vegetation.
The location, which is about half the size of a basketball court, faces the rear of the fenced-up estate.
They hide their bicycles there. The men use another hideout nearby to stash big boxes containing cartons of illegal cigarettes.
The peddlers then leave the safety of the concealed area and walk along a storm drain.
It is a precarious climb over a gate at the side of the drain to get to the side closer to the estate.
To the right of this drain crossing, about 100m away, the men set up shop.
From where they congregate, they seem well aware of their surroundings. They can easily see through the 2m-tall fence and notice anyone approaching from the front.
Lookouts flank the group at a distance of 50m. When a customer comes close, only one or two persons approach the fence. The rest watch as the deal is sealed quickly.
From a nearby automated teller machine, we overhear one Indonesian-sounding peddler saying: "Rokok, rokok ("cigarettes" in Malay)?
"Mahu apa? (Marlboro) Merah, hijau, Black Menthol, lights atau kretek? (Malay for "What do you want?" (Marlboro) red, green, Black Menthol, lights or Gudang Garam?")
Compared to previous years, the variety of illegal smokes sold seems to have grown, just like the street price of a box of cigarettes.
The peddlers now charge $6 for each box of 20 cigarettes. It was previously available for $5.
To some, the price increase may still seem a good deal, given that a box of 20 premium Marlboro red cigarettes sold legally at coffee shops or convenience stores costs around $13. It is unclear if any of the contraband cigarettes sold are fakes.
When supplies run dry, someone in the group cycles in the direction of Sungei Kadut Avenue to get more cartons of illegal cigarettes.
He returns to distribute them equally among the group.
As night falls, a few daring peddlers scale the high fence to get into the estate.
They stand at the side of Woodlands Road and entice passing drivers and riders by flashing a carton.
The cars that stop near the estate's entrance usually buy a carton of duty-unpaid cigarettes each time.
Meanwhile, close to Sungei Kadut Avenue, a group of peddlers sell cheaper smokes to foreign workers housed nearby in Kranji.
Peddlers there use torchlights to signal customers in the dark.
Each box of contraband Texas 5 cigarettes sell for $5. It costs $9.10 at some provision shops.
The packaging of contraband cigarettes differ from legal ones.
For one, illegal smokes have warning signs on the boxes written in Malay. Unlike costlier cigarettes, each illegal cigarette is not marked with SDPC, which stands for Singapore Duty-Paid Cigarette.
TNP attempted to speak to the group yesterday afternoon.
The peddlers walked away when one of our special correspondents identified himself.
Mahu apa? (Marlboro) Merah, hijau, Black Menthol, lights atau kretek?
- One of the peddlers, advertising his wares (in Malay, it means 'what do you want? (Marlboro) red, green, Black Menthol, lights or Gudang Garam?')
3,000 cartons of cigarettes seized
On Wednesday, the authorities seized a load of contraband cigarettes at the Jurong Port Main Gate.
The lorry driver, a 57-year-old Singaporean man, was stopped for checks by the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officers. ICA officers found a stash of 3,100 cartons of duty-unpaid cigarettes in the lorry's consignment, which had been declared as plasticware.
The potential duty and goods and services tax (GST) for the cigarettes amounted to about $284,800 and $25,890 respectively.
The seized items and driver were handed over to the Singapore Customs for investigations.
The "demand for contraband cigarettes remains strong", Singapore Customs told The New Paper.
In 2012, 6,248 people were caught buying or possessing contraband cigarettes. The figure rose to 6,400 the following year and dropped to 5,893 people in 2014.
The public is advised not to get involved in illegal activities concerning contraband cigarettes.
Its spokesman said: "Buying, selling, conveying, delivering, storing, keeping, having in possession or dealing with duty-unpaid goods are serious offences under the Customs Act and GST Act. Offenders can be fined up to 40 times the amount of duty and GST evaded, jailed for up to six years or both."
Singapore Customs is aware of the contraband cigarette activities in the Yew Tee area and is involved in regular multi-agency raids and patrols there.
Those with information on contraband cigarette activities can contact Singapore Customs on 1800-233-0000, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or use the Customs@SG mobile app (downloaded from the Apple Store or Google Play) to report on these illegal activities.