SINGAPORE — A man who smuggled six animals from a pet shop Johor Bahru into Singapore through his car's spare tyre compartment was jailed for 24 weeks on Monday (14 June).
Kelvin Seo Wen Quan, 35, pleaded guilty to three counts each of importing the animals without a licence and of importing the animals in a manner which caused them unnecessary suffering.
The six animals were two Persian cross cats, a munchkin cat, a golden retriever, a dachshund and a chihuahua.
In November 2019, Seo, a sales representative, was asked by a man known as Ho Choon Wei if he wanted to earn cash by transporting pets from Johor Bahru to Singapore. Seo took up the job after he was offered $500 per trip.
On one such trip, on 2 March last year, Seo crossed the Causeway at 2.30am to pick up the pets from the pet shop at Geylang Patah. He handed over his car and car keys to a worker from the shop and waited while the worker loaded six animals into his car.
In the meantime, another co-accused Winston Quek Yeok Chai monitored traffic at the Johor checkpoint and Tuas Checkpoint. Quek then gave Seo instructions on which lanes to take at Tuas Checkpoint in order to reduce the chances of a detailed vehicle check.
Some 45 minutes later, the worker handed Seo the keys to his car and $500 in cash. The animals had been bundled up in the spare tyre compartment of Quek's car with little ventilation and no food or water.
Seo cleared customs at Tuas Checkpoint without issue after taking the lane that Quek had advised him to use.
After clearing the checkpoint, Seo arranged to meet Quek at a multi-storey carpark at Pioneer Mall to transfer the smuggled animals to Quek's car. Quek was supposed to meet Ho, who would inject water into the animals' mouth to prevent them from dehydrating.
However, as Quek was transporting the animals, he was stopped at a police road block while driving along Jalan Bahar towards Lim Chu Kang Road. The officers conducted an inspection of his vehicle and spotted several closed cardboard boxes in the car boot.
The officers opened the boxes and found the six animals, all of which were sedated and not moving. After Seo was arrested, he admitted to the police that this was not the only occasion he had smuggled animals into Singapore and that he had done so at least thrice.
NParks Prosecutor Wendy Tan sought at least six months' jail for Seo while his lawyer Justin Phua asked for four to five months' jail.
Phua said that his client had been responsible for discharging his deceased father's hospital bill of about $60,000 and loan shark debts accumulated from the medical expenses of his sickly father. Seo is also servicing his outstanding housing loan of about $130,406.
Seo had been taking on odd jobs and online live-streaming to make ends meet. When Seo was approached to take on the pet smuggling assignment, he had taken it out of a "desperate need" for extra revenue to supplement his household income and family debts. He only earned about $350 in profit after subtracting the cost of car rental and gasoline and this has been "disgorged" by a $500 donation to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in relation to the case, the lawyer said.
In mitigation, Phua pointed out that the time the animals were in the spare tyre compartment was about half an hour and by the time he handed the animals to Quek, Seo had noticed that they were alive and unharmed. He had also arranged for ice bottles to be placed in the compartment to reduce the chance of them overheating.
The lawyer added that Seo had not been the "prime mover" of the operation.
In reply, Tan said that the water bottles were not mentioned in the course of investigations and said that this also showed how Seo knew the animals would be subject to overheating and discomfort.
She pointed out that he had admitted to smuggling animals across the borders several times before.
Ho's and Quek's cases are still pending before the courts.
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