The Hong Kong Customs chief has said that the Singapore government was not a target of the investigation surrounding nine seized military vehicles and other military hardware in Hong Kong.
Roy Tang Yun-kwong, the Commissioner of Customs and Excise, said that its investigation found that “someone” had violated the Import and Export (Strategic Commodities) Regulations, and the department will commence criminal prosecution. Tang refused to disclose who the target is, but said the investigation does not involve the Southeast Asian state.
“In the investigation process, we did not detect any roles of the Singapore government in the possible breach of the licensing requirement,” Tang said. “So the Singapore government from the very beginning has not been the subject of investigation.”
Tang’s comments were made at an annual press conference concluding the department’s work last year. The nine Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles were seized in November 2016. A day before the conference, the Hong Kong government announced it will return the vehicles to Singapore, after an investigation was concluded.
Asked if the central government had knowledge of the seizure beforehand, Tang said he only saw a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson speaking about the matter on television.
“Our law enforcement authority is completely based on Hong Kong law. There are no other considerations,” he said.
He denied the vehicles were held longer than they should have been for the investigation.
“Two months is not a particularly long time, taking into account the various specific requirement of the Import and Export Ordinance,” he said, adding that the list of items was very long.
Tang said the department has notified the shipping company that it can take back the vehicles – currently at a Tuen Mun Customs facility – and the other military hardware at any time.
But Tang stressed that the company has to apply for departure permits and approval from the Trade and Industry Department before leaving for Singapore.
The vehicles were originally shipped from Kaohsiung, Taiwan after a training programme conducted there by the Singaporean Armed Forces. Taiwan and Singapore have had military ties for decades, since Singapore does not have enough land to conduct exercises.
News agency FactWire previously cited sources as saying that mainland authorities tipped off Hong Kong Customs about a shipment docked in the coastal sea port of Xiamen in southeastern China’s Fujian province before the seizure.
The incident has sparked concerns over China’s apparent pressure on Singapore for it to respect the “One China” principle, which China demands countries with diplomatic ties to it follow.