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Christopher Tan, Senior Correspondent
The Straits Times

A HIRE-PURCHASE company stands to lose tens of thousands of dollars when a car it leased to a police officer was impounded by Singapore Customs in June.

The car, a Hyundai Trajet MPV, was used for cigarette smuggling.

In 2005, Kenso Leasing sold the car on hire-purchase to Staff Sergeant Misnawi Asmawi, a decorated police officer who has since left the force.

In July, Kenso was informed by Customs that it had seized the car on June 19. It was then being driven by one Abdol Jabar Abdul Aziz, who has since been accused of smuggling cigarettes.

The relationship between Abdol Jabar and Mr Misnawi - who is uncontactable - is unclear.

Kenso is contesting the forfeiture of the car. Its lawyer, Mr Vijai Parwani of Parwani & Co, argued in court yesterday that the penalty had no benefit as a deterrent.

‘If the party who is convicted of the crime is the owner of the vehicle, then yes, by all means forfeit the vehicle… But where the owners are finance companies or other innocent parties, then the mandatory forfeiture will not have any deterrent effect,’ he said.

Kenso’s general manager Anthony Lim told The Straits Times that it had lost close to a dozen vehicles this way in the 20 years it had been in business.

He added that the company had been cautioned once by the courts to be more careful and to screen its customers.

‘But who can be safer than a police officer?’ he asked.

Singapore Customs told The Straits Times that it forfeited 917 vehicles between 2004 and last month in connection with smuggling activities.

This number is five times that for the preceding three years and works out to about 16 vehicles a month, excluding those seized by other enforcers such as the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority and Central Narcotics Bureau.

Finance and leasing companies can apply to recover the vehicles’ taxes, but they still stand to lose out on interest payments and the sum which the vehicles would have fetched had they been sold or re-exported.

These companies have the option of going after the hire-purchase customer, and Kenso has done so in this case: It has started bankruptcy proceedings against Mr Misnawi.

Mr Lim said: ‘My question is, if a passenger on an SIA plane was nabbed for smuggling in drugs, will the authorities seize the plane?’

Mr Parwani said the decision to apply for forfeiture of his client’s vehicle ‘must be subject to the test of reasonableness’.

‘In order for the court to decide whether Customs has exercised (its powers) reasonably, the department must disclose the factors that it considered in coming to its decision,’ he added.

District Judge Liew Thiam Leng yesterday granted Singapore Customs two weeks to respond to Kenso’s arguments. The case will be heard again next month.

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