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    Jan 24, 2014

    Customs on to cig sellers' Net tricks

    ILLEGAL-cigarette peddlers are using social-media platforms to offload their stash to buyers, in what Singapore Customs calls an "emerging trend".

    In eight enforcement operations conducted last year, 11 men and two women were nabbed for selling 1,740 cartons of assorted brands of duty-unpaid cigarettes worth more than $169,000 on social-media platform WeChat. The goods and services tax (GST) and duty evaded exceeded $137,000.

    In a statement yesterday, Singapore Customs said that peddlers use the free messaging app to try to avoid detection. But most, said the authority, still operate in dark alleys and back lanes.

    A seller uses the app, created by Chinese Internet giant Tencent, to communicate with and source for buyers. In one deal, for instance, a seller logged in with the handle "Smelly Cigarette" in Mandarin. On his status, he posted: "Brothers and sisters, I have cigarettes to sell. If you want, please contact me."

    The seller then promised a "reasonable deal" and attempted to establish a long-standing relationship with the buyer.

    Singapore Customs said: "When a deal is made, the contraband cigarettes will be delivered to the buyer."

    It added that enforcement officers nabbed the peddlers as they were delivering the stash.

    Last year, 398 peddlers were nabbed, down from 402 in 2012 and 458 in 2011. The amount of contraband cigarettes seized, however, has almost doubled from 1.5 million packets in 2012 to 2.9 million packets last year - an increase of 93.3 per cent.

    More offenders have been caught trying to smuggle contraband cigarettes into Singapore in luxury cars: 15 last year, compared to just four in 2012. The cigarettes were concealed in modified compartments in seats, fuel tanks, spare tyres or engine compartments.

    "They assumed that luxury vehicles were less likely be checked by enforcement officers at the checkpoints," said Singapore Customs.

    The number of smokers caught buying contraband cigarettes here has risen from 5,977 in 2011 and 6,248 in 2012 to 6,400 last year.

    Buying, selling, delivering, storing, possessing or dealing with duty-unpaid goods are offences under the Customs Act and the GST Act. Offenders can be fined up to 40 times the amount of duty evaded and jailed for up to six years. Vehicles used to commit such offences may also be forfeited.