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Tuesday, 27 October 2020
The Magistrates Court today has sentenced Reginalo Choong Cheng Jian, a 34-year-old Bruneian male, for twenty-seven (27) charges for offences committed under Section 6 (b) of the Prevention of Corruption Act (Cap. 131). The Defendant was first charged in Court on the 10th June 2020, and on the 3rd October 2020, the case was heard again at the Magistrate's Court, where he had pleaded guilty to all the charges of corruptly giving gratification to a Customs Officer, as an inducement or reward so as not to take action against him, for committing offences under the Customs Order, 2006.
Facts of the case
1. Sometime in 2017, the defendant met with one Haji Mohammad Haikal bin Haji Suhaili, a Customs Officer at the Sungai Tujoh Control post. They then exchanged phone numbers. Communication started when the defendant started to contact the said Customs Officer and informed him that he intended to bring in alcohol and cigarettes into Brunei.
2. The defendant then suggested to offer gratification in terms of money to the said Customs Officer for assisting him to import unexcisable goods into Brunei Darussalam and providing information as to the situation at the Sungai Tujoh Control Post every time the defendant wanted to bring in some alcohol and cigarettes.
3. The Customs Officer agreed to this arrangement and each time, the defendant intended to come into Brunei Darussalam from Miri, the Customs Officer would assist the defendant by allowing him to enter Brunei Darussalam without requiring the defendant to declare his goods.4. The calculation agreed for payment of commission from the defendant to the Customs Officer was that for every case of alcohol undeclared, the Customs Officer would receive $5.00 (five Brunei Dollars) for each case of alcohol and for every carton of cigarette $2.00 (two Brunei Dollars). This arrangement was agreed by both parties.
5. Before entering into Brunei Darussalam, the defendant would inform the said Customs Officer how many cases of alcohol and how many cartons of cigarettes the defendant would be bringing in.
6. Once the agreement was reached, the defendant started to enter into Brunei Darussalam with the goods inside his car. Each time the defendant entered into Brunei Darussalam, and assisted by the said Customs Officer, the defendant would not be required to declare his goods and the said Customs Officer would not take any action on the defendant for not declaring his goods.
7. Once the defendant succeeds in importing the items into Brunei Darussalam, the defendant would then give gratification to the said Customs Officer in terms of money by depositing into said Custom Officer's bank account or his friends bank account.
8. The amount of gratification would vary each time, depending on how much unexcisable goods were brought in by the defendant.
9. The said Customs officer confirmed that he received commission from the defendant via Bank online transfers to his own bank account or to his friend's bank account. These banking details and online transfers are crucial evidence obtained by the Anti-Corruption Bureau to prove the case.
10. The defendant admits that through assistance from the said Customs Officer, no action was taken against the defendant, and he had given gratification in the amounts below in return for the defendant to be allowed to import unexcisable goods.
11. The offences were committed between 24th October 2017 and 4th March 2018. Within that period, the defendant gave gratification to the said Customs Officer a total of 27 (twenty-seven) times, amounting to B$4,912.00 (four thousand nine hundred and twelve Brunei Dollars), breakdown as below;
The Honourable Magistrate Marzuqi bin Sabtu sentenced the defendant to an imprisonment of 18 months as a starting point reduced to 12 months. In total 324 months of imprisonment. However, this would be manifestly excessive as the maximum term for imprisonment is only up to 7 years. Hence, by applying the principle of totality, the Magistrate ordered for every 9 charges to run consecutively to each other amounting to an imprisonment of 36 months (3 years). The sentence of 36 months is to take effect from 3rd October 2020 when the defendant was first remanded.
The Court strongly agrees that corruption is a very serious offence that to the extend, the country established a special independent department in order to counter this kind of offences. Furthermore, corruption could lead to a destruction of a nation, hence, Courts will not take this matter lightly. The Court believes that every action will bear consequences whether good or bad.
With regards to the said Customs Officer
Haji Mohammad Haikal bin Haji Suhaili, was earlier charged with the same 27 charges of accepting the gratification and had pleaded guilty. Chief Magistrate Pengiran Hajah Masni binti Pengiran Haji Bahar sentenced him on the 1st July 2020 to a total of 3 years imprisonment. The Court had also ordered him to pay as penalty the amount of gratification he received which is $4,912.00 (four thousand nine hundred and twelve Brunei Dollars) to the State. Failing to pay the said amount defendant is to serve, in default, a sentence of an additional 5 months' imprisonment.
Advice from ACB
The Courts have always emphasized that criminal behaviour by personnel of enforcement agencies erodes public trust and confidence and thus, must be strongly condemned. Corruption is a serious and an insidious problem and if left undetected, could lead to a corrupt system and a lack of public confidence. As such, a deterrent sentence has to be imposed so as to send a clear message to all that corruption in any form will not be tolerated and it warrants a custodial sentence.
The Anti-Corruption Bureau was established to deal with corruption both generally and particularly in the Public Service. This is itself an indication of the determination of the government to combat this kind of offence and of its concern as to its prevalence.
The maximum sentences for an offence of corruption, under section 5 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, or a corrupt transaction with an agent under section 6, are 7 years imprisonment or a fine of $30,000.
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