The District Court of Hong Kong has found Singapore-based shipping agent APL and one of its captains guilty on Mon (29 Apr) for transporting nine Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Terrex infantry carriers worth HK$136.6 million (S$23.7 million) into Hong Kong without a licence three years ago.
South China Morning Post reported that the shipping firm and the mainland Chinese captain, Pan Xuejun, were in breach of Hong Kong’s Import and Export Ordinance, which resulted in a total fine of HK$99,000 (S$17,180) and a three-month suspended prison sentence for Pan.
Judge Stanley Chan Kwong-chi, in delivering his verdict, rejected Pan and APL’s lawyers arguments regarding their clients’ not being aware of the Terrexes being on board the vessel, saying that it was impossible to have overlooked the military vehicles, as “the tyres could still be seen which could not be covered entirely”.
“it could not be stored in a normal container, but a flat rack container,” he added.
Singapore’s Ministry of Defence and its Taiwanese counterpart, being the respective receiver and sender, “also gave it away”, SCMP reported Judge Chan as saying.
The SAF Terrex case sparked a diplomatic row between Hong Kong and Singapore after the former’s authorities had discovered the presence of the military vehicles on board APL Qatar at Kwai Chung Container Port on 12 Nov 2016.
Hong Kong’s customs officers discovered “a roofless container roughly eight metres long, three metres wide, and four metres tall, wrapped in a metal chain and rope”, which the authorities learnt were the Terrex infantry carriers, prosecutor Robert Pang Yiu-hung SC told the Court on Mon.
Pan and APL were responsible for transporting the Terrexes back to Singapore three days after a military exercise in Taiwan at the time.
None of the Terrexes were granted a “proper” licence for the import of “strategic commodities”, which was supposed to be issued by the director-general of trade and industry of Hong Kong.
Pang, however, told the Court that APL staff member had handed the customs officers a form describing the Terrexes as “vehicle” despite the carriers being “amphibious” military grade ones containing “tear gas launchers”.
Pan and APL both pleaded not guilty at the start of the 15-day trial in Oct last year.
Pan’s lawyers argued that he should have not been held liable for all of the goods carried by the container ship, which was rejected by Judge Chan, as he was responsible to the Hong Kong authorities for reporting all of the goods he was transporting.
The Terrex vehicles were returned to the Singapore government on 26 Jan 2017.