SINGAPORE, Nov 15 — Tasked as a money courier to bring in his foreign customers’ money to Singapore to be exchanged into other currencies, a man did not declare about S$3 million he was carrying on two separate trips.
Anyone who moves more than S$20,000 into or out of Singapore when entering or leaving the country has to submit a declaration.
Bryan Woo Kah Hou, 26, was sentenced to pay a S$30,000 fine on Tuesday (Nov 14) after pleading guilty to two charges under the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes Act, for moving cash in and out of Singapore without an accurate declaration.
One other similar charge was taken into consideration during sentencing.
The court heard that at the time of his offences, the Malaysian was working as a money courier at Million Serenity, a currency-exchange company in Sarawak, Malaysia, which was owned by his wife’s uncle.
Million Serenity provided a service that couriers currencies to Singapore.
As part of this service, Woo would collect money in both Brunei dollars and Singapore dollars from customers in Brunei and courier it to Singapore to exchange them into Malaysia ringgit.
Woo would then take the Malaysia ringgit back to his clients in Brunei or have it remitted there.
Singapore and Brunei have a currency interchangeability agreement, which means that each country accepts the other’s currency at an at-par exchange rate and thus have the same value.
Sometime on June 15 this year, Woo was staying with his wife Michelle Lu at her relative’s home in Brunei.
That night, Woo was filling out the required Singapore Physical Currency and Bearer Negotiable Instruments declaration form after Ms Lu had met with some of Million Serenity’s clients to collect money to be couriered to Singapore.
Ms Lu worked as a manager at Million Serenity, which her father also helped to run.
When Woo asked Ms Lu what the amount to be declared was, his wife proceeded to call her father to inform him that she had collected more than B$1,000,000 (S$1,000,000), and to ask what amount should be declared.
On her father’s instructions, Ms Lu told Woo to state the sums of B$428,000 and S$30,000 in the declaration form.
Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) David Koh said that Woo, Ms Lu and her father were all aware that this amount was less than what Woo was to take to Singapore.
Woo concluded that his father-in-law was concerned that if they declared the accurate amount, which was very large, they might be investigated by the authorities seeking to verify the source of the funds.
The next day, after Woo collected another sum from a client at Brunei International Airport, he boarded a flight from Brunei to Singapore and arrived at Changi Airport Terminal 2.
Court documents did not state how much was collected from this client.
Despite knowing that he was carrying more than S$1,000,000 in both Bruneian and Singapore currencies, Woo still passed his inaccurate currency declaration form to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officer and was allowed to pass the immigration checkpoint.
A few days later on June 20, Woo boarded a flight from Brunei to Singapore and arrived at around 11.40am with his brother-in-law Eddie Lu, who accompanied him for security purposes.
As they were headed towards the exit of the arrival hall, ICA officer Neo Chee Nam spotted Woo and Mr Lu, and gestured to them to place their bags into an X-ray machine.
At this point, Woo wanted to hand over the currency declaration form to Mr Neo but was asked to proceed with the X-ray examination of the bags first.
The completed form stated that Woo was carrying B$468,000 and S$37,500 but he was carrying B$1,953,818 and S$25,235, which was the equivalent of S$1,979,053, DPP Koh said.
As Mr Neo checked the form, he asked Woo how many types of currencies he had brought along and how much he was carrying.
Woo replied: “Brunei 400 something.”
Mr Neo asked Woo to clarify whether he was carrying B$400,000 or B$400 but Woo repeated his previous response.
When Mr Neo asked how much Singapore currency he was carrying, Woo said that it was about “30 plus thousand” but he could not remember the exact amount.
Noticing that Woo appeared to be nervous, Mr Neo asked Woo to take a seat and to think about his answers.
Woo then decided to fill in a second currency declaration form after he called his wife to ask how much he was carrying and what he should declare as the amount.
However, instead of indicating the actual amount, Woo incorrectly stated that he was carrying B$1,827,068 and S$135,000.
He then passed the second form to Mr Neo who noticed that the declared amount for the Brunei and Singapore currencies were both higher than what was previously indicated in the first form.
Unable to give a satisfactory explanation after he was queried by Mr Neo, Woo’s matter was referred to an ICA supervisor who called the police.
‘Deliberately under-declared sums’
Seeking a fine of S$15,000 to be imposed on each charge, DPP Koh said that the currency reporting regime is aimed at deterring criminal actors from exploiting Singapore’s financial system.
The intention behind an inaccurate declaration would be to dissuade an immigration officer from conducting further checks by making some sort of declaration, DPP Koh said.
He added that even though Woo had been stopped, he did not even bother to correct his deliberate errors and he admitted to police later that he had deliberately under-declared the sums that he had carried.
While his reason for doing so was motivated by convenience, it was by no means a good reason to avoid or undermine the reporting regime, which compromises Singapore’s defence against money laundering, DPP Koh said.
For each charge of moving cash in and out of Singapore without giving a full and accurate report, Woo could have been jailed for up to three years or fined up to S$50,000, or both. — TODAY