Parliamentary Speeches

Organised Crime Bill – Response Speech by Mr S Iswaran, Minister in Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade & Industry

Published: 17 August 2015

Madam Speaker, may I have your permission to ask the Clerk to distribute a handout to Members?  I wish to thank Mr Hri Kumar and Mr Alvin Yeo for speaking on and supporting the Bill and for the queries that they have raised.  The issues raised broadly fall within three themes.  First, the need for the Organised Crime Bill; second how the Bill will be used to tackle organised crime more effectively; and, finally, the safeguards, especially the provisions pertaining to civil confiscation. I will address each in turn.


Need for Bill


2. Both Members have agreed with the need for the Bill.  Organised criminal groups (OCGs) are a menace and pose a serious threat to our safety and security.  They have the resources to commit serious crimes on a large scale and for prolonged periods.  They structure themselves to evade law enforcement, especially at the higher echelons, by having multiple layers, each with discrete and separate functions.  


3. While overall crime, and organised crime in particular, in Singapore is under control, we must ensure that we have the necessary powers to effectively address the threat of organised crime should the need arise.  This is especially important as OCGs will evolve with globalization and advances in technology. They will find new ways to perpetrate crime and evade the law.  This Bill will significantly strengthen our ability to prevent organised crime from taking root in Singapore.     


Use of the Bill


4. Mr Hri Kumar asked about the types of organised criminal groups (OCGs) and organised crime activities that we are concerned about.  Our law enforcement agencies' greatest concerns today lie with the involvement of OCGs in crimes such as drug trafficking and unlicensed money lending (UML).    


5. Allow me to explain with an illustration.


6. The handout illustrates the typical structure of a drug trafficking group, based on actual cases that CNB has dealt with.  The graphic shows the complex and layered nature of the OCG.  The OCG's activities are initiated and coordinated by the mastermind, OCG Leader X, who is located overseas.  He takes orders for drugs from his partners in Singapore, and instructs drug supply syndicates and courier coordinators to deliver drugs to these partners.  Once brought into Singapore by couriers, the drugs pass through multiple hands, channels and layers before being sold to drug abusers.  The illicit proceeds from the drug trafficking activities flow back to OCG Leader X and further finance the illegal activities of the OCG.


7. Currently, CNB can take action under the Misuse of Drugs Act against persons in the lower rungs of the OCG, such as the runners and street-level traffickers.  With the OCB, such persons can be subject to enhanced penalties for committing these offences for an OCG.    


8. However, the OCG will be able to easily regroup by replacing these lower level operatives by recruiting more persons to perform such roles and continue operating.  To be effective, we need to take action against persons higher up in the hierarchy.  


9. The persons in the middle tiers of the OCG – A, B and C – are OCG Leader X's partners in Singapore.  In most cases, CNB is able to arrest and charge such persons under current laws.    


10. Under the Bill, the local partners will also be liable for new offences such as instructing the commission of an offence for an OCG and recruiting members for an OCG i.e. Part 2 offences.  If convicted, they will face higher penalties under the Bill.  


11. To tackle such OCGs, this Bill provides additional levers beyond criminal sentences.  The Public Prosecutor (PP) can apply for an Organised Crime Prevention Order (OCPO) to restrict the activities of persons A to C, for example, by placing restrictions on the premises to which they have access to, and the manner in which they may associate with other persons.  This will curtail their involvement in the OCG's activities.


12. The PP can also apply for a Financial Reporting Order (FRO) to require them to furnish financial reports to CNB.  This will allow CNB to trace and track their finances.  


13. Finally, the Bill will allow us to deal more effectively with the mastermind, OCG Leader X.  These leaders like X usually operate from overseas.  He would create multiple layers and complex structures to distance himself from the actual drug trafficking activities and ensure that he does not personally handle the drugs.  This makes it difficult to secure a drug trafficking conviction against him.    


14. With the new offences created under this Bill, OCG Leader X will be liable for criminal offences such as instructing the commission of an offence for an OCG and recruiting members for the same group.   


15. In addition, the benefits he derives from his criminal activities can be subject to the civil confiscation regime.  This will deprive him of his gains, disrupt the activities of his OCG and curtail its further growth.  


16. I hope this example shows how an OCG can pose a great threat to Singapore's safety and security, even if they are not similar to the traditional notions of mafia or triads that Mr Hri Kumar has referred to.  Mr Hri Kumar also asked for relevant statistics regarding organised crime.  As I mentioned earlier, and as Members have acknowledged, our overall organised crime situation is under control.  Nevertheless, in the area of drugs, between 2012 to 2014, CNB seized almost $47 million worth of drugs, and broke up over 60 drug syndicates. Many of these syndicates are small-scale operations in Singapore without elaborate structures, similar to the local networks of Persons A, B and C in the illustration.   


17. However, in some cases, there are suspected links between these syndicates and transnational organised criminal elements.  In other words, the activities go beyond our borders and are part of the larger structure.  


18. We must also be prepared for new types of organised crimes and modalities that threaten Singapore's safety and security.    


19. Mr Hri Kumar asked about the evidence that will be used to determine whether the purpose of a group is to obtain a financial or other material benefit from the commission by or the facilitation of the commission by, any person of any serious offence.   


20. Madam, the purpose of the group can be established through its activities, for example, whether the plans and preparations of the OCG are focused on financial gain, how the serious crime is executed, and how the group deals with the proceeds of the crime. In doing so, our law enforcement agencies will rely on evidence such as the communications between the members of the OCG, statements recorded from witnesses and OCG members, any instruments of crime seized, and the conduct of the members of the OCG in relation to the offence.   


21. So in Mr Hri Kumar's example of a gang of youths stealing a motor vehicle, if the gang steals the vehicle and discards the vehicle thereafter, and this is an isolated case, the Penal Code would obviously be a more appropriate lever to deal with this sort of criminal act.  Let me also emphasise again that the focus of this Bill is on OCGs that commit serious offences on a sustained basis. The Bill does not target ad hoc groups that commit isolated crimes.  


22. Let me also take this opportunity to address Mr Alvin Yeo's question on the extra-territorial nature of offences created under the Bill.  We acknowledge Mr Yeo's point that it is important for Singapore to be able to provide assistance to other countries in the area of organised crime as part of the international collaboration and cooperation that we have with overseas law enforcement agencies. However, the most important consideration when deciding on the scope and coverage of new offences in the context of Singapore is to criminalise activities that are of greatest concern to Singapore.  This is the principle which has guided the manner in which we drafted the Bill.  


23. I want to assure members that the Bill will not impinge on our ability to render assistance to foreign law enforcement agencies when warranted by the situation.  For example, the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act (MACMA) allows for mutual legal assistance to be provided for a wide range of offences and that is the basis on which our law enforcement agencies have been cooperating with their international counterparts.


Safeguards in civil proceedings


24. Madam, Mr Hri Kumar and Mr Alvin Yeo have asked about the safeguards to ensure that the OCPO, FRO and civil confiscation orders, which can be sought through civil proceedings requiring a lower standard of proof as compared to a criminal conviction, are used only in the appropriate cases. I think these are valid points, I explained earlier some of the safeguards and I wish to reiterate them.  


25. Madam, let me first explain the overall safeguards that the Bill provides for before an OCPO, FRO or civil confiscation order can be issued in civil proceedings.  First, law enforcement agencies will investigate and build the case against suspected organised criminals.  Their priority is to prosecute criminals in court as far as possible. In other words, to secure a criminal conviction. The decision to apply for one of the orders or a Civil Confiscation order, in the absence of a conviction, is made separately by the Public Prosecutor. There is a separation between the law enforcement agency that does the investigation and gathers the evidence, and the Public Prosecutor who makes the final assessment on whether such orders are to be applied for.   


26. Second, these proceedings must be heard in the High Court, where the Public Prosecutor has to prove, on a balance of probabilities, that the defendant has been involved in a Part 2 offence, or a serious offence associated with an OCG.  The defendant will have the opportunity to defend himself, and he can avail himself of the same defences available if he had been subject to a criminal prosecution.  The OCPO/FRO or confiscation order will be issued only if the High Court judge is satisfied with the merits of the case.  There is also provision for appeals to the Court of Appeal. 


27. Let me now also address the specific queries raised by Members. Mr Hri Kumar asked about the threshold of "protecting" the public, how the threshold of "protecting" the public will be satisfied before an OCPO/FRO is issued. This would involve the assessment of risk, that the person is still likely to be involved in organised crime activities without the Order.    


28. Madam Speaker, in deciding on the issuance of the Orders, the Court would have to balance the public benefit that the Orders would bring, in terms of greater security and safety, against the restriction and requirements that would be imposed on the person.  In other words, the application for or issuance of the order must be commensurate with the risk of the subject getting involved in organised crime activity without the Orders. The law enforcement agencies and the Public Prosecutor will have to make an assessment of that risk and persuade the Court of their assessment before the Orders can be issued.   


29. Let me also respond to Mr Hri Kumar's query on whether both Orders can be renewed indefinitely.  This is not the case because if the law enforcement agencies see the need for a new order on the expiry of the previous order, they would have to approach the Public Prosecutor to make a fresh application to the High Court. This would be subject to the same risk assessment and test before the Court.    


30. Mr Alvin Yeo also asked about the CC provisions which reverse the burden of proof, onto a subject to prove the legitimacy of his property.  As Mr Yeo has pointed out, this approach is similar to that we have used in the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act (CDSA).  The CC regimes in New Zealand and Australia similarly put the onus on the subject of a CC proceeding to establish that his property is derived from lawful activity.


31.Let me also assure the Member that the CC regime will used judiciously against organised group criminals.  The Public Prosecutor is required to first prove to the High Court on a balance of probabilities that the subject has carried out organised crime activity within the statutory period of 7 years.  A confiscation order is therefore not made simply on the grounds that defendant cannot explain the origins of his wealth. We first have to establish the predicate offence on the balance of probabilities.     


32. It is fair to place the burden of proof on the subject to prove the legitimacy of his property thereafter.  After all, he is in the best position to explain how he derived those assets.  These are also matters which are specifically within the subject's knowledge, and which will be difficult for anyone else to prove.  The subject will have the opportunity to show that his assets which are disproportionate to his known sources of income are not ill-gotten.    


33. Madam, I wish to emphasise that such provisions are not unique to Singapore.  The Preventive Orders are closely modelled after the UK's Serious Crime Prevention Order and Financial Reporting Order.  Countries like New Zealand and the UK also have CC regimes.  In fact, these countries allow the use of such powers even against persons who commit serious offences without any organised crime influence.  The experiences of these countries have shown that such tools are effective and necessary to prevent and disrupt organised crime. Having said that, I want to assure Members that the powers embedded in this Bill will be exercised judiciously with the strong set of safeguards that I have elaborated on.




34. Madam, let me conclude by emphasizing the considerable harm that organised crime activities can cause to Singapore's safety and security.  We therefore need law enforcement levers that can aid the fight against organised crime.  This is why we have studied the laws in other jurisdictions to develop the Bill, which is scoped to target the threats posed to Singapore by organised criminal groups.  I urge Members to give your full support to the Bill, so that our law enforcement agencies will have the necessary powers and tools to tackle the scourge of organised crime groups and continue keeping Singapore safe and secure.  


35. Madam, I beg to move. 


Related: Second Reading Speech on the Organised Crime Bill - Speech by Mr S Iswaran, Minister in Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade & Industry


Law and order
Managing Security Threats