Published: 26 November 2020
Chairman and AMMTC Leader of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,
Your Excellency General To Lam,
Excellencies and Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. A very good morning to all of you.
2. First, let me start off by expressing our deepest appreciation to the Vietnamese Government, and Your Excellency General To Lam, as Chair, for your commitment to host this virtual 14th AMMTC Plenary under circumstances which are very challenging. Second, let me express our deepest condolences to our Malaysian counterparts, and the family of the police officer who unfortunately passed away in an anti-smuggling operation near the border, and we wish speedy recovery to the other injured officer.
3. As with the 20th SOMTC, which was held earlier this year in September, we think that it is excellent that ASEAN Member States (AMS)’ have decided to hold our meetings. It shows a collective sense of purpose that we have to continue strengthening cooperation within ASEAN, to combat transnational crime and ensure a safer region for our people.
4. Governments in our region and around the world have focused on responses to Covid-19 to protect public health, to promote economic recovery, and criminals are of course, seeking to exploit this situation.
5. At the recent SOMTC, most AMS reported an increase in transnational crimes since COVID-19 started, and colleagues here have shared your experiences too. We have to give our very strong support to our law enforcement agencies, and we have to robustly respond at the national level, as well as regionally. And AMMTC is a key platform in ASEAN to drive our regional efforts to tackle transnational crime, including against the challenges that have been brought about by the COVID-19 situation.
6. For Singapore, transnational crimes are of significant concern and, in particular, they fall in three areas - cybercrime, illicit drugs and terrorism.
7. Let me start with cybercrime. COVID-19 has brought about a serious growth in cybercrime.
8. In Singapore, a significant increase in online scams has been reported. People are working from home, staying at home more, they are carrying out more online transactions during this period.
9. To deal with this, Singapore’s National Crime Prevention Council recently launched a mobile application, called ScamShield, to try and filter scam calls and messages. But online scams are often committed by syndicates operating from outside the borders. That is why transnational co-operation is vital.
10. In this context, I express my deepest appreciation to the Royal Malaysia Police for working with us to cripple two separate syndicates in February and May this year. They were responsible for several cases of phone scams and Internet love scams targeting victims in Singapore.
11. As the ASEAN Lead Shepherd for Cybercrime, Singapore led the establishment of the ASEAN Cyber Capability Desk in 2018, which is now known as the ASEAN Cybercrime Operations Desk or “ASEAN Desk”. It published the first cyberthreat assessment of our region in February 2020, which is a major milestone in its development.
12. ASEAN Desk plans to undertake this threat assessment every year to help our region stay on top of the latest developments and trends, and we thank INTERPOL and the AMS for your contributions to this inaugural assessment and urge continued support for this excellent initiative.
13. I am pleased to share that in January 2020, ASEAN Desk led two successful operations targeted at crypto-jacking and web scammers, and supported by private sector partners.
14. The success of joint operations demonstrates the importance of close cooperation and coordination.
15. Overall, ASEAN Desk advanced professional development of our law enforcement officers, facilitated information exchange and enhanced joint regional operations. We express our appreciation to Vietnam and Brunei for seconding officers to the Desk, and for the Philippines’ interest in doing the same.
16. Singapore has seconded officers to ASEAN Desk and we strongly encourage remaining AMS to do so. It would greatly enhance national and regional capabilities to tackle cybercrime threats.
17. Looking ahead, ASEAN Desk is working on several promising initiatives.
18. First, establishing a secure virtual collaboration platform to promote knowledge exchange on cybercrime issues, with law enforcement agencies and private entities.
19. Second, developing a regional coordination framework to drive intelligence-led, coordinated operations.
20. Finally, organising virtual training for First Responders from AMS on the collection, handling and preservation of digital evidence and enhancing investigation abilities in Darknet and Crypto Investigations.
ILLICIT DRUGS / TRAFFICKING
21. Let me now move to my second point which relates to drugs.
22. Trafficking of illicit drugs increased during this COVID-19 pandemic. About two weeks ago, Singapore’s drug authorities seized almost S$2 million worth of drugs including 14 kilograms of heroin – our largest single haul in nearly twenty years.
23. Despite strict travel restrictions and border closures, movement of illicit drugs persisted through alternative channels, like drones, mail and couriers, and other ways.
24. We have noted drug traffickers and syndicates using what we would call “novel” smuggling methods, hiding substances inside coconuts, papayas and so on.
25. And globally, a growing number of countries are adopting more liberal perspectives on drugs, which is, I think a matter of serious concern for ASEAN. It threatens our drug-free stance.
26. World Health Organisation Expert Committee on Drug Dependence issued 6 recommendations on rescheduling of cannabis and cannabis-related substances
27. Singapore rejects all the six recommendations due to the potential implications that these recommendations would have on public health and public safety.
28. We are very concerned that some of the recommendations are not anchored on scientific evidence.
29. The acceptance of these recommendations at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting on 2 December, would send the wrong signal to the general public that cannabis is no longer seen to be a harmful drug.
30. We strongly urge all ASEAN member states (AMS) to stand united in our vision of a drug-free ASEAN.
31. And we urge Thailand as the only voting member of the CND from ASEAN to vote against all the six recommendations at the CND Reconvened Session in December.
32. Let me now turn to my third point which relates to the threat of terrorism and extremism that persisted during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we must continue to remain vigilant.
Regional cooperation and close collaboration with our strategic partners, such as INTERPOL remain as important as ever.
33. INTERPOL’s Regional Counter-Terrorism Node (RCTN) for Asia and South Pacific facilitates intelligence sharing and cooperation within ASEAN to enhance counter-terrorism efforts.
34. We urge AMS to second officers to the RCTN to build strong personal and institutional links, to enhance information sharing and to strengthen ASEAN’s collective defence against the persistent threat of terrorism.
35. In conclusion, Chairman and members, ASEAN must remain united to deal with evolving emerging threats, in the current and post pandemic world.
36. Let us continue to work closely together to ensure a safer and more secure ASEAN.
37. Thank you.