Smuggler hid 24 birds under trousers

Straits Times 30 Mar 12;

A MALAYSIAN odd-job worker hid 24 hatchlings in a pouch hanging from his waist in a bid to smuggle the birds into Singapore.

But seven of the 24 oriental white-eye birds were found dead when he was pulled up for a check upon arrival from Batam.

Yesterday, Lim Chia Ming, 55, was jailed for two weeks for bringing in the birds - called mata puteh in Malay - without a licence from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

He was also fined $4,000 for causing unnecessary suffering to the hatchlings by confining them in spaces too small and restrictive inside the pouch. He had pleaded guilty to both charges.

A district court heard that Lim had left Singapore for Batam last Friday to visit his girlfriend.

While there, he visited a bird shop and told its owner of his smuggling plan. The Indonesian owner selected the two dozen hatchlings and Lim took them to his girlfriend's house in a cage that he borrowed from the shop.

Its owner also gave him 24 boxes, which had previously contained bottles of massage oil for babies, that had been perforated.

The next day, the Indonesian went to the house of Lim's girlfriend at 7am to help pack the birds into the boxes.

These were placed in a cloth pouch that Lim wore under his trousers. His ferry docked at the Singapore Cruise Centre at about 9.30am.

He was pulled up for a routine check by officers from the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, and his game was up.

The court heard that each box measured just 7.5cm by 2.5cm by 2.5cm and seven of the birds died during the journey.

AVA currently does not allow the import of birds from avian influenza-affected countries such as Indonesia.

The oriental white-eye is a popular songbird in Singapore and a hatchling can fetch $25. It is not known how much Lim paid for each hatchling in Batam but bird lovers said it could be as little as $2.

He could have been fined up to $10,000 and jailed for up to a year on each charge.