Thursday 23 January 2014

ICA Woodlands Checkpoint breach on 17 Jan 2014

MFA trespasser slips past ICA checkpoint in serious lapse in security
By Ashley Chia, TODAY, 22 Jan 2014

In what has been described as a very serious lapse in border security, a 27-year-old Malaysian woman drove past the Woodlands Checkpoint last Friday afternoon in a Malaysia-registered red Perodua without being stopped by the immigration authorities and gave them the slip despite a lockdown of the car arrival zone.

Three days later, police officers failed to recognise the woman or her car despite an islandwide alert, when they encountered her while helping a taxi driver whom she tailgated all the way to the Police Cantonment Complex. Barely an hour later on the same day, the woman drove her car into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Sherwood Road premises and drove around the compound without authorisation, after slipping past the security post by tailgating a vehicle in front.

She was stopped when her car was boxed in by two vehicles driven by MFA security officers.

The woman, who is said to be a teacher from Kuala Lumpur, was arrested on Monday for criminal trespass after the MFA called the police.

In a joint statement yesterday, the police and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) said the woman is also being investigated for not having cleared immigration. They added that the woman, whose name was not revealed by the authorities, has a history of mental illness.

She is in police custody and investigations are in progress. “With the assistance of the Malaysian High Commission and the Royal Malaysia Police, we have contacted her next of kin in Malaysia, who are on their way to Singapore to assist in our investigation,” said the police and ICA.

In a press statement, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean made clear his unhappiness with the breach, which he noted could have had more serious consequences. “This case should have been prevented and dealt with more urgently and decisively. I have expressed my dissatisfaction to the Commissioner of ICA and Commissioner of Police over the breach at the Woodlands Checkpoint and the subsequent response actions,” he said.

Mr Teo also directed the Commissioners of Police and ICA to report to him the corrective measures and recommend appropriate action against officers who did not discharge their duties properly. The police and ICA said they will review the incident and take steps to prevent a recurrence. In particular, the security systems and work processes at the Woodlands and Tuas checkpoints will be reviewed.

Based on preliminary investigations, the woman entered Singapore at about 1.58pm on Friday by tailgating a car in front. Her vehicle was not stopped and, by the time the alarm was raised two minutes later, “efforts to locate the car at the Woodlands Checkpoint were unsuccessful despite an immediate lockdown of the arrival car zone”, said the police and ICA.

After the 30-minute lockdown, the police issued an islandwide alert to its officers to keep a lookout for the vehicle and reviewed closed-circuit television footage from the Land Transport Authority to trace it.

On Monday, at 1.32pm, the police received a call from a taxi driver who reported that a woman was tailgating him. The police advised him to drive to the Police Cantonment Complex and the woman followed him. At the complex, police officers tried to talk to her, but she drove away. About an hour later, she was arrested at the MFA compound after the ministry called the police. The woman was “unresponsive” when nabbed, the police added.

ICA Deputy Commissioner Aw Kum Cheong said: “This is a very serious lapse in our border security and we are disappointed by the incident.”

The authorities said between 2011 and 2013, a total of 26 motorists were arrested for trying to evade immigration clearance.

Security intrusions: Woman charged
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 23 Jan 2014

THE Malaysian woman at the centre of two security intrusions here has been charged with criminal trespass and remanded at the Institute of Mental Health for a psychiatric assessment.

The 27-year-old, said to have a history of mental illness, was arrested on Monday in her red Perodua hatchback after she had driven into the compound of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) without authorisation.

She had also apparently sneaked past immigration at the Woodlands Checkpoint last Friday, giving police the slip for three days before finally being nabbed in the grounds of the MFA, located off Holland Road.

An islandwide advisory to look out for her was sent to police patrol cars, but she was not found until Monday's incident at the MFA compound.

The Straits Times understands that about an hour before she breached the MFA compound, a taxi driver had dialled 999 while close to Singapore General Hospital, informing police that he had been tailed by the woman for the past hour.

The cabby was told to drive to the nearby Police Cantonment Complex, where he was assisted by officers.

It is understood that the woman, a teacher from Kuala Lumpur, also stopped her vehicle nearby but did not respond to officers' questions and drove off minutes later.

The incident prompted Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean to express his "deep dissatisfaction" to the Commissioner of the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority and the Commissioner of Police about their response.

Trespass incident: MPs call for review of border security
Some lawmakers say many questions remain unanswered; Malaysia reveals trespasser's identity
By Ashley Chia, TODAY, 23 Jan 2014

Urging the authorities to review and step up border security, Members of Parliament (MPs) yesterday expressed shock and disappointment at the recent breach at the Woodlands Checkpoint, which saw a Malaysian woman drive into Singapore, evade immigration clearance and stay here for three days before she was arrested for trespassing at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

The woman, who has been named by the Malaysian Foreign Affairs Ministry as 28-year-old Nurul Ruhana Binti Ishak from Kedah, has been charged with criminal trespass and has been remanded at the Institute of Mental Health for psychiatric evaluation, the police said.

MPs on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law whom TODAY spoke to called for an inquiry into the series of lapses, pointing out that many questions remain unanswered. They also stressed the importance of having a “watertight” border as a critical line of defence against threats to national security.

Marine Parade GRC MP Tin Pei Ling said: “I am quite shocked by this incident because the border and checkpoints are our first line of defence and I would expect the authorities to be very strict and have thorough checks there ... once you’re inside the country, more mischief is possible and there is much more risk.”

Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Hri Kumar Nair added: “We need to get to the bottom of it and deal with the loopholes.”

He noted how the woman had given immigration officers the slip despite a lockdown of the car arrival zone being activated about two minutes after she drove into the checkpoint.

“Why wasn’t there a sufficiently quick reaction when it was realised that she had gone through without the proper checks?” he said, adding that questions also have to be asked about why the officers initially failed to stop her for checks.

The lockdown lasted 30 minutes, after which the police issued an islandwide alert to officers to look out for the woman and her car.

Three days later, police officers encountered the woman while helping a taxi driver she was tailgating. The officers, who did not recognise the woman or her car, tried to speak to her but she drove off.

Sembawang GRC MP Vikram Nair said he was curious as to how the alert had been disseminated to police officers. “An alert must have gone out, but I don’t know whether every patrolling officer was aware of (it), whether it was a matter of course that they would (look out for the suspect),” he said.

Responding to TODAY’s queries about the procedures after the alarm had been raised at the checkpoints and why there had been a two-minute delay before the alarm was raised last Friday, an Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) spokesperson said investigations are in progress.

Reiterating that security at the checkpoints was of “utmost importance to ICA”, she said: “We will seek to further strengthen our security measures at the checkpoints to prevent a similar occurrence.”

The police also cited ongoing investigations and said it was premature to provide further details, in response to this newspaper’s queries on the procedures for islandwide alerts and why its officers did not recognise the woman or the car when they encountered her.

The woman entered the ministry on Monday afternoon without authorisation as she tailgated a car. She drove around its Sherwood Road compound before she was boxed in by vehicles driven by MFA security officers.

An MFA spokesperson said the ministry carried out an internal review immediately after the incident and has put in place additional security measures which the spokesperson did not elaborate on. It is working with the Ministry of Home Affairs to improve security at its premises.

Following the incident, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean expressed his “deep dissatisfaction” to the Commissioners of Police and ICA, noting that it could have had more serious consequences. He directed them to report to him the corrective measures they will be taking and to recommend appropriate action against officers who did not discharge their duties properly.

Speaking to reporters last night after a visit to a foreign workers’ dormitory, Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam declined to comment on the trespassing incident, stressing that it was under investigation.

Checkpoint breach raises vital questions
When lapses happen one after another, it raises doubts about the integrity of the system as a whole
By Han Fook Kwang, The Sunday Times, 2 Feb 2014

It has been almost two weeks since the revelation that a Malaysian woman drove her car illegally past the Woodlands Immigration Checkpoint and went undetected for three days.

There are too many questions about how such a security breach could have occurred, raising concerns regarding the competence and alertness of the officers involved.

These queries need to be answered quickly to reassure Singaporeans that the authorities are on top of their game.

Questions: How did the woman drive past immigration control in such a brazen manner without being detected?

It was reported that she tailed the car in front of her and went past the vehicle barrier without stopping for the usual immigration checks. Why did the officer manning the booth not notice her car when it went past? When did he notice and at which point was the alarm raised? If it took a full two minutes for the alarm to be raised, as was reported, why did it take so long?

After clearing immigration, vehicles proceed to the Customs checkpoint where officers check for contraband and goods to be declared.

This is some distance away, and if the officers there had been alerted in time, the offender might have been apprehended there. Were they alerted, and when exactly? What is the procedure for such alerts to be passed from the Immigration to the Customs checkpoint?

It is cold comfort to know that the woman had apparently sailed through Malaysian immigration checks as well, as her passport was not found on her when she was arrested.

Then, there is another set of troubling questions about how she was able to go undetected for three days.

Questions: What exactly was the nature of the alert raised by the immigration department to the police and security forces in Singapore after she left Woodlands?

Was it a high priority warning? What is the procedure when such alerts are raised?

For example, is every police officer asked to be on the lookout for the driver and the vehicle? This question is pertinent because, on the third day of her illegal stay here, the woman tailed a taxi and the cabby called the police to report her suspicious behaviour.

He was told to drive to the police complex in Cantonment Road, which he duly did, with the Malaysian driver hot on his heels.

You would have thought that was the perfect trap to lay. Mission accomplished?

Alas, when they reached the station, she was apparently questioned about her behaviour but she refused to answer and promptly drove away.

Did the police officer questioning her know she was a wanted immigration offender? If not, why?

The woman has been charged and the answers to some of these questions might be clearer when the case goes to court.

No one wants to be unduly critical of the men in blue because the job they do is a difficult one that sometimes puts their lives in danger.

Singaporeans know that the country's reputation as a peaceful and secure place is founded on the work they do and are grateful for it.

But it is a job that requires constant alertness and vigilance all round.

When so many lapses take place one after another, involving the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority of Singapore (ICA) and the police, it calls into question not just the competence and attentiveness of individual officers involved but also the integrity of the system as a whole.

Indeed, the Government knows the seriousness of this breach and it could not have expressed its displeasure more clearly than when Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean made public his comments:

"I have expressed my deep dissatisfaction to the Commissioner of ICA and the Commissioner of Police over the breach at Woodlands Checkpoint and the subsequent response actions. This case should have been prevented and dealt with more urgently and decisively as it could have resulted in more serious consequences than what occurred."

His anger wasn't unexpected because this wasn't a case of someone trying to sneak in stealthily in the dead of night but in broad daylight and under the noses of officers responsible for preventing such incidents.

If the offender had been, say, a terrorist out to create mischief, and not someone with alleged mental problems and who was behaving oddly, the consequences could have been very serious.

After the attack on the United States in 2001, and when Jemaah Islamiah terrorist cells were discovered here, the public was assured that the authorities were doing everything in their power to prevent an attack here.

Numerous arrests have been made over the years and persons detained under the Internal Security Act.

Singaporeans slept peacefully knowing the country's security forces appeared on top of the situation.

But the Woodlands breach shows how true the old adage is, that the system is only as strong as its weakest link.

Is the weakness, though, with the foot soldiers manning the booths at Woodlands and the police station at Cantonment? Or are there wider issues that need to be addressed by senior management?

For example, are officers trained well enough to respond to these incidents? What has been done to make sure their attention levels do not suffer as a result of fatigue or long hours of repetitive work?

Are the standard operating procedures (SOPs) on sending out alerts and disseminating information islandwide adequate and effective?

These issues are relevant especially after the Little India riot, when questions were also raised over whether the police responded fast enough to contain the situation.

One other area that needs to be addressed is the visible lack of enforcement officers on the ground - from Traffic Police to police patrol cars to litter wardens.

One online commentator wrote: "In the past, when I drove along the expressways, I (would) see traffic police in a BMW or on a patrol bike. Nowadays, I hardly see any."

Many have made similar observations.

It is obviously costly to have officers everywhere, and it might not be efficient to do so, beyond a certain number.

But one consequence of having too few boots on the ground is not only that people get away with offences but that enforcement officers become overworked, and their vigilance levels drop.

After the Woodlands fiasco, security was apparently tightened at the Causeway making it a nightmare for motorists driving into Singapore, with some reports citing delays of up to three hours.

Hopefully, this isn't the only way to do the checks properly.

There must be better, more effective, methods that do not create so much trouble for the public.

Whatever the reasons behind the extraordinary breach at Woodlands, the authorities need to react and respond fast.

Singapore's security depends on it.

Teacher faces trespass, immigration charges
But Malaysian who slipped into S'pore is said to be of unsound mind
By Hoe Pei Shan, The Straits Times, 27 Feb 2014

THE Malaysian teacher who entered Singapore illegally last month now faces three charges, which were read to her at her first court appearance yesterday.

But she has also been found to be of unsound mind, and lawyers said it could mean that the charges could be cleared or dropped.

Nurul Rohana Ishak, a 27-year-old Kedah native, slipped past immigration officers at Woodlands Checkpoint on Jan 17 by tailgating a car.

Several missteps by border security and police officers meant she was arrested only three days later, when she entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) compound without authorisation.

At first, she faced a single charge of criminal trespass for entering the MFA, but she now has two more immigration charges for failing to present her passport for examination and failing to stop her vehicle upon arrival at Woodlands Checkpoint.

The new charges each carry a maximum sentence of six months' jail and/or a fine, while criminal trespass could draw jail of up to three months and/or a fine.

But the court also heard that Nurul, who has been remanded at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) since her Jan 20 arrest, is of unsound mind and unfit to make a plea.

Criminal lawyers said she could be cleared of her charges, or have them dropped if law enforcement officials accept the IMH psychiatric assessment.

"Her unsoundness of mind may lead to an acquittal, as such a person is seen as incapable of knowing the nature of her actions as constituting offences," said lawyer Terence Tan.

Criminal lawyer Raphael Louis, too, said: "Assuming all three charges have a mental element to them, that is, intention... the assessment may negate her intention to commit a crime."

Another possibility is that at least one charge could be dropped. Psychiatric assessment may affect the criminal trespass charge, as it relates to the intentions of the accused, but "the mental element may not matter" in the two immigration charges, said lawyer Steven Lam.

Nurul reportedly has a history of mental illness, and The Straits Times understands she has yet to communicate with her family, despite visits to IMH by her parents.

Yesterday in court, Nurul, who was dressed in a bright pink and green floral baju kurung, seemed calm. She kept her head slightly bowed and her long hair swept neatly to one side.

After the charges were read out, she was led away. None of her relatives was present, but two members of the Malaysian High Commission were there. Nurul was offered $15,000 bail.

* AGC drops charges against Malaysian in checkpoint breach
She gets warning and a discharge not amounting to an acquittal
By Hoe Pei Shan, The Straits Times, 15 Mar 2014

THE Malaysian school teacher who was arrested three days after she slipped past immigration officers at Woodlands Checkpoint has reunited with her family.

Ms Nurul Rohana Ishak was released from Changi Women's Prison and sent home yesterday after all charges against her were withdrawn by the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC).

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Dwayne Lum told the court that the AGC had decided not to proceed with the case against the 27-year-old "on account of her mental illness".

But due to the "seriousness of the offences", a discharge not amounting to an acquittal was granted.

Ms Nurul was also issued with a conditional warning by the police not to commit similar offences again in the future.

The court heard that she accepted the warning, which stipulates that the charges would be resurrected if she re-offends within 12 months.

Noting that such a case was unprecedented here, Ms Nurul's lawyer, Mr Abraham Vergis, praised the outcome as one that is "legally sound and morally right".

His client, a native of Kedah state, had entered Singapore illegally on Jan 17 and was arrested only three days later.

Three charges were brought against her: criminal trespass, and two immigration charges for failing to present her passport for examination and failing to stop her vehicle.

A psychiatric assessment by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) on Feb 21, however, found her to be suffering from schizophrenia and unfit to make a plea.

The report also indicated that she suffers from auditory hallucinations and was under the belief that she was being persecuted at the time of the offences.

The decision to withdraw all three charges was made "after careful consideration of this report and all the relevant facts of this case", said DPP Lum.

Present in court yesterday to receive the news were Ms Nurul's stepmother, Madam Sharifah Shafie, and Malaysian Deputy High Commissioner Kamsiah Kamaruddin.

Joy and relief played openly across Madam Sharifah's smiling face as court proceedings concluded.

"I'm happy, because this is over," said the 49-year-old cook. "I will give her a hug and prepare a meal for her."

Ms Kamsiah said the Malaysian High Commission here "is extremely pleased and grateful with the decision of the court".

"We have been working with Nurul and her family and all the authorities here from the very beginning to ensure that her privacy and her interests are protected," she said.

"The High Commission wants to thank all the authorities here in Singapore, particularly the IMH for taking excellent care of Nurul, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority and the police for their compassion... and also the court and the DPP for their wisdom and judgment."

The High Commission is also providing consular assistance to Malaysian Tan Chu Seng, 64, who was arrested after breaching border security at Woodlands last Saturday.

Tan, who is accused of committing a rash act by reckless driving and vandalism after he damaged a security barrier, is due to appear in court on Monday.

No comments:

Post a Comment