Trading firm director convicted of illegally importing 1,787 elephant tusks into Singapore

Mar 24, 2022 | News

By Louisa Tang, Today Online

SINGAPORE:  A 40-year-old woman was found guilty on Wednesday (March 23) of importing into Singapore close to 1,800 elephant ivory pieces, worth a total of S$3.3 million. She did not exercise due diligence to ensure that the shipment was legal.

Dao Thi Boi, a Singapore permanent resident from Vietnam, was convicted after claiming trial to a single charge of importing a scheduled species without a permit under the Endangered Species (Import & Export) Act.

She was the director of VNSG Trading and Song Hong Trading & Logistics at the time.

The shipment in a 40-foot container came from Apapa, Nigeria in Africa.

It was marked for re-export to Vietnam before it was intercepted by an Immigration and Checkpoints Authority officer who had scanned the container.

The container was declared to contain only groundnuts, but was later found to contain bags of 1,787 elephant tusks weighing 3,480kg at the Pasir Panjang Scanning Station in March 2018.

The ivory pieces were packed inside gunny sacks and hidden among other sacks of groundnuts.

Elephants are listed as protected species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), an international agreement between governments to protect endangered plants and animals. 

It is an offence for anyone in Singapore to illegally import or export, possess, sell, offer and advertise for sale or display to the public any illegal wildlife species protected under Cites. This also applies to transit or transshipment of illegal wildlife species, including their parts and derivatives.

She Had Past Dealings with Client

The prosecution submitted that Dao had not only turned a blind eye, but also actively helped her client to import the elephant tusks into Singapore. She did so by helping him to make false declarations of the shipment’s contents.

Dao had been informed by her Vietnamese client — known to her as Su Thein — about the shipment sometime in early February 2018. As a one-person operation, she oversaw all of Song Hong’s business transactions.

The goods to be imported were described as groundnuts in the permit and shipping documents.

Dao, who was defended by lawyer Wee Pan Lee, argued that she had not imported the tusks into Singapore because the Nigerian company that shipped the container was not linked to her or her company.

Other reasons she gave during the trial were that the shipper was responsible for its contents, she was unaware that the contents were anything else but groundnuts, and she was not in a position to check if the shipper had stuffed elephant tusks into the container.

In convicting Dao, District Judge Ong Chin Rhu noted that her past dealings with Su Thein in “very similar transactions” had already raised several red flags.

She had handled about seven consignments from Nigeria to Singapore on behalf of Su Thein between 2017 and March 2018.

On the client’s instructions, she then changed the cargo descriptions on the export bills of lading for five consignments to goods of a completely different category, without making corresponding changes to the cargo descriptions on the export cargo clearance permits.

District Judge Ong said: “While a single red flag may not have raised suspicions, various red flags from multiple dealings would have sounded an alarm in a reasonable person.”

It was also not “a necessary ingredient” of the charge that Dao was aware of the consignment containing elephant tasks, the judge ruled.

Even though there was no evidence that she was aware, District Judge Ong said that she did not take all reasonable precautions or exercise all due diligence to avoid committing the offences.

Dao will return to court on May 24 for sentencing submissions from the prosecution and defence.

She could be jailed for up to two years or fined up to S$50,000 for each scheduled species (up to S$500,000 in total), or punished with both.

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