An Indian national, linked to a group of Indians who had defrauded the Singapore tax authority out of SGD 570,000 by making false Goods and Services Tax (GST) refund claims, has been jailed for 18 months by a court.
Muthuvel Sankar, 41, pleaded guilty to two counts of corruption, three counts of GST fraud and one amalgamated charge of money laundering, The Straits Times reported.
He was jailed for 18 months and slapped with a SGD 66,891 tax penalty by the court on Thursday. Six other charges were taken into consideration. Sankar avoided arrest when the authorities here busted the Indian syndicate in 2014 as he was not in Singapore at the time.
In October last year, he tried to re-enter Singapore as a tourist but was nabbed and charged in the court.
For the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau's (CPIB) director of operations, Chin Wee Liam, Sankar's prosecution has put to bed a case of some significance.
"Singapore is a tourist hub so if we don't put a stop to these kinds of practices, you can imagine the financial damage caused to public funds," he told The Straits Times.
It was the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras) that discovered the fraud in 2013 after its data analytics tool flagged several suspicious GST refund claims made through the electronic tourist refund scheme (eTRS). Singapore Customs and the CPIB were then alerted.
It emerged that a group of four Indian nationals had made false GST tourist refund claims of about SGD 570,000 between September 2012 and January 2014, according to the Straits Times report.
They gave bribes to Mohamed Yusof Abdul Rahman, then a Customs officer at Changi Airport's GST Refund Inspection Counter, as reward for approving the claims.
The Indian nationals bought jewellery receipts from bona fide shoppers, obtained eTRS tickets from the retailers, and presented the tickets to Yusof, who endorsed them without verifying the goods.
Collecting the refunds in cash, the Indian nationals would spend some of the money on duty-free items before leaving for India. The court heard on Thursday that Sankar was introduced to this fraud scheme in 2013 by a friend.
Using a similar modus operandi, Sankar made at least six false claims between June and November 2013, fraudulently obtaining SGD 29,800. He took some of the money out of Singapore on at least five occasions.
No restitution has been made. Sankar also gave, or conspired with his friend to give, SGD 2,800 in bribes to Yusof on five occasions between 2013 and 2014.
Chin said Sankar had already been identified as a person of interest when they arrested his four accomplices in January 2014. "Unfortunately, Sankar was not around when we moved in," he said.
After finally nabbing him last year, CPIB worked with Iras and the police's Commercial Affairs Department to investigate his offences.
In court, Deputy Public Prosecutor Eric Hu said that Sankar did not return after leaving Singapore on November 24, 2013, as he had heard many Indian nationals were arrested for defrauding Iras.
But he took a risk and returned because five years had passed and was immediately arrested. While Chin did not rule out other accomplices who might still be at large, he said the key men have now been taken to task.