Crime & Courts

Forest City a smuggling hotspot [NSTTV]

ISKANDAR PUTERI: SMUGGLING duty-free alcoholic beverages and cigarettes out of Forest City in Gelang Patah, here, has become a rampant affair.

Checks by the New Straits Times revealed the presence of "agents" at the Forest City duty-free complex, who are willing to spirit out duty-free items purchased by customers, for the right price.

These so-called agents would have no qualms about approaching potential customers to strike up a deal to bring out the items and evade checks by the Customs Department.

The rate for smuggling beer out of Forest City is a minimum of RM25 per crate, while there are different rates for liquor and cigarettes.

The NST, upon being alerted to the practice, recently visited the duty-free complex, which houses more than 10 duty-free shops.

Under the law, customers can buy up to three crates of beer (24 cans per crate), five litres of liquor, and three cartons of cigarettes (200 sticks per carton) at duty-free prices.

There is no purchase limit on duty-free chocolates.

However, the alcoholic beverages and cigarettes must be consumed only within Forest City and cannot be taken out.

To purchase the items, foreigners need to hand over their identification documents, while Malaysians must present their MyKad.

Forest City residents, meanwhile, have a special card which they are required to produce.

This was confirmed by checks with a number of duty-free store salespersons.

The NST also asked the sales assistants whether they knew of people smuggling the duty-free items out of Forest City.

They replied in the negative, only saying that such purchases were subject to a tax if brought out of the sprawling development.


Outside a store, the NST reporter was approached by a young man who claimed to be a runner who could help bring goods out of Forest City.

Dressed in a black T-shirt, jeans and cap, he said he charged RM25 per crate of beer.

A crate of Tiger beer, usually retailing at RM143.90, is sold at RM74.30 at the duty-free store. As such, even with the RM25 fee added on, it would still be cheaper than the regular retail price.

Asked how this would be done, he said the customer could meet him at the complex's basement car park where the goods would be handed over discreetly.

The agent would place the goods in his car and drive out of the complex, which is manned by a Customs officer and a Forest City security guard.

The agent would rendezvous with the customer outside Forest City, along a quiet stretch of road lined with forests on both sides, where the goods would be exchanged for cash.

Asked about the risk of the agent driving off with the goods, he gave his assurance that it had never happened before and that he had been "in business" for three years.

Queried on the dangers of getting caught, he replied that he was on "good terms" with the Customs officers.

"If I bring out 30 crates at a time, I would be charged for just one or two to meet the tax quota.

"But otherwise, I can just drive through," he said, adding that there weren't many visitors to the complex and as such, his services contributed towards the livelihood of the duty-free operators.

Although unable to close the deal, he asked if the reporter could buy him two crates of beer (at his own cost) as his monthly quota had been used up.

The reporter declined, but took down his mobile number nonetheless.


NST's checks revealed that while a runner may be able to smuggle out the goods, it is entirely possible for a person to bring out duty-free goods on their own.

When driving into the premises, a Customs officer stationed there reminded the reporter that any duty-free alcoholic beverages and cigarettes must be consumed within Forest City itself.

However, when the reporter left the complex three hours later, there were no Customs officers stationed.

The exit was instead manned by a security guard, who waved the reporter's car through with barely a glance.

NST's efforts to contact the Johor Customs Department for feedback was unsuccessful up until press time.

Iskandar Puteri police chief Assistant Commissioner Rahmat Ariffin said several arrests were made in the past, with the suspects charged under the Customs Act 1967.

State Trade, Investment and Consumer Affairs Committee chairman Lee Ting Han said those who violated the rules must be held responsible and should be punished.

"Forest City was recently gazetted as a Special Finance Zone. It enjoys certain special policies aimed at boosting it as an attractive destination for leisure, tourism, trade and hospitality, and should not be misused by any parties.

"One must adhere to the rules and regulations of the country at all times."

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