Jail for man who smuggled six puppies, bird into Singapore hidden in cramped car compartment

Somasundram Pathumalai arriving at the State Courts on June 23, 2021. ― TODAY pic
Somasundram Pathumalai arriving at the State Courts on June 23, 2021. ― TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, June 24 — A 36-year-old man agreed to smuggle six puppies and a songbird into Singapore from Malaysia for S$500 (RM1,547), keeping them in a cramped compartment in his car with poor ventilation.

All but two of the dogs eventually died from dehydration while in quarantine.

Yesterday (June 23), the man, Somasundram Pathumalai, was sentenced to six months’ jail. The Singaporean pleaded guilty to two charges each of importing the animals without a valid licence and subjecting them to unnecessary suffering.

Ten other similar charges were taken into consideration for sentencing.

The two men who allegedly planned the smuggling operation — Jeevan Arjoon, 31, and Subramaniam Ellan, 33 — have been charged. Their cases are pending before the courts.

Somasundram’s lawyer said yesterday that they intend to claim trial and that his client is willing to testify against them.

What happened

The court heard that on March 14 last year, an Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officer stopped Somasundram’s car as it was entering Singapore at Woodlands Checkpoint at 3am.

Upon checking the vehicle, officers found two German Shepherd puppies, four Great Dane puppies and a white-rumped shama, a songbird popular among bird owners, placed in a tube. The dogs were sedated and all of the animals were hidden in a compartment underneath a passenger seat.

During investigations, Somasundram revealed that Subramaniam had offered him S$500 to smuggle the animals into Singapore.

Subramaniam then allegedly arranged for Somasundram to pick up a rental car, and told him to go to a Woodlands public housing block and wait for Jeevan — Subramaniam’s brother-in-law — to contact him.

Jeevan told Somasundram to follow him into Johor Baru, Malaysia, and meet at a patrol station.

They then drove to Selangor and picked up the puppies, before heading back to Johor to collect the bird at a pet shop. A man there also sedated the puppies through injections and Jeevan allegedly paid him for this.

Jeevan purportedly told Somasundram that he would return to Singapore first to see which checkpoint lane was the safest to drive through.

However, Somasundram did not wait for the other man to call him first. He drove to Woodlands Checkpoint and was stopped there.

The authorities found that the compartment’s cramped conditions and impeded ventilation would have caused the animals to suffer.

The puppies were also moderately to deeply sedated. Sedation reduces the ability of animals to increase their breathing rate to compensate for the lack of ventilation, National Parks Board (NParks) prosecutor Packer Mohammad told the court.

The animals were seized and quarantined for observation.

Between March 25 and 30 last year, three of the Great Danes and one German Shepherd died. The bird then died on April 23 last year.

Irreversible damage and harm

Packer sought the sentence imposed, revealing that Somasundram had been jailed for one year in 2005 for illegally importing cigarettes. He was also most recently jailed for nine months in 2013 for housebreaking.

In mitigation, Somasundram’s lawyer, Riyach Hussain, said that his client’s co-operation had led to the other two men being nabbed.

“His idea was just to pick up the puppies and deliver them to Singapore. He was not in any way involved in the sedation of the animals,” the lawyer added.

In sentencing Somasundram, District Judge Eddy Tham said that deterrence was the primary sentencing consideration in this case, and that “irreversible damage and harm” had been caused to the animals.

The judge allowed him to begin serving his jail time on July 21. He remains out on bail of S$10,000.

For each charge of illegally importing animals and a failure of duty to care for them, Somasundram could have been fined up to S$10,000 or jailed for up to 12 months, or both.

In a statement, NParks and ICA reiterated that the importation of all animals into Singapore requires approval from NParks.

The agencies noted that smuggled animals may introduce exotic diseases into the country, and that illegal wildlife trade impacts the biodiversity and ecosystems of the countries that the animals come from and end up in.

NParks also encouraged prospective pet owners to get their pets from licensed pet shops and not buy them from unknown sources, including those on online platforms.

“While NParks continues to ensure that regulations are in place and properly enforced, pet owners, businesses and the public have a part to play,” the authorities added in their statement. ― TODAY

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