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Hong Kong courts

Singapore troop carriers seized in Hong Kong were labelled as civilian vehicles, court told

Prosecutors open their case at District Court against APL shipping company and captain of APL Qatar over 2016 incident

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 October, 2018, 6:59pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2018, 2:42pm

A batch of Singaporean armoured personnel carriers worth more than HK$136 million (US$17.3 million) were allegedly labelled as civilian vehicles and shipped via Hong Kong to the Lion City without the proper licence, a court heard on Thursday.

Setting out their case against shipping company APL, and captain Pan Xuejun, on the first day of the criminal trial, prosecutors also described how Hong Kong customs officers came to discover the nine Terrex troop carriers in the city in 2016.

The trial at the District Court revolves around the impounding of the military vehicles, which were discovered aboard the container ship APL Qatar by officials on November 23, three days after it left Kaohsiung in Taiwan following a military training exercise.

In Hong Kong, a licence issued by the director general of trade and industry is needed for the importation of “strategic commodities”.

But prosecutors said when APL and Pan shipped the troop carriers to the city for onward transit to Singapore they did not apply for the licence.

On Thursday, the pair pleaded not guilty to breaching the Import and Export Ordinance, an offence

that carries an unlimited fine and up to seven years in prison.

“Both of them need to be held accountable for the criminal liability stated in the charge,” prosecutor Robert Pang Yiu-hung SC said.

Pang told the court that APL Qatar docked at terminal 8 of the Kwai Chung Container Port at 8.32am on November 23, 2016.

During an inspection that took place three hours later, customs officers immediately spotted something suspicious.

Pang said two officers saw a giant roofless flat rack container, which was 7.78m long, 2.97m wide and 3.98m tall. It was wrapped in a metal chain and rope, he said.

“The officer, through a gap of a canvas cover, spotted a massive vehicle, the size, appearance and huge wheels of which made him suspect it could be an armoured vehicle,” the prosecutor said.

Upon further investigation, it was found to be a military vehicle, and subsequently, five more were found on the same deck, while three others were located in storage spaces below the deck.

An expert from the police confirmed that those vehicles, which boasted tear-gas launchers, and the ability to withstand anti-personnel mines, were designed for military purposes. The Terrex vehicles are also amphibious.

Pang said when customs officials checked their database, the document they found in relation to the shipment made no mention of the flat rack containers.

So, they questioned APL staff, and the firm produced a document that included the container.

“But it only described the goods inside the flat rack container as vehicles,” he said.

Several documents showed that APL was the company in charge of the shipment, he added.

The documents also revealed the total price of the vehicles amount to be HK$136,584,000, he said.

Pang said the vehicles were impounded at the River Trade Terminal in Tuen Mun. It was not until January 26, 2017, that they were returned to the Singapore government.

District Court Judge Stanley Chan Kwong-chi adjourned the case until Monday.