The Extradition Act: What If You Commit a Crime and Flee Singapore?
If you are thinking that you can commit a crime in Singapore and escape the legal consequences of doing so by fleeing the country, think again.
The Extradition Act (EA) provides a basis for you to be brought back to Singapore to be dealt with by the proper authorities according to law.
What is Extradition?
Extradition is the formal process by which someone who has been accused or convicted of a crime, and who has fled overseas, is handed back to the jurisdiction of the country in which the crime was committed, to face the legal consequences of committing the crime.
For example, if the accused committed a crime in Singapore and fled to another country, the accused may be extradited from that country to Singapore.
Extradition Treaties and Arrangements
As the process of extradition involves the co-operation of two or more countries, some countries have concluded extradition treaties or arrangements with each other.
Extradition treaties establish the conditions under which extradition to and from the signatory countries may take place.
Treaties are legally binding on the signatory countries, obliging them to act in accordance with the agreed conditions. This ensures greater transparency and clarity in the extradition process.
A treaty can be bilateral (between two countries), or multilateral (among several countries).
In the absence of an extradition treaty, countries may have extradition arrangements with each other. These arrangements do not have the status of a treaty, but may nonetheless derive legal force from the written laws of the respective countries (such as the EA in Singapore’s case).
Where there is no treaty or arrangement present, extradition may be governed by the provisions of the involved countries’ present laws.
Which Countries Does Singapore have Extradition Treaties and/or Arrangements With?
Singapore has bilateral extradition treaties with Hong Kong, the United States and Germany. These countries are referred to as “Foreign States” in the EA.
Singapore also has extradition arrangements with 40 Declared Commonwealth countries including Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, as part of the London Scheme for extradition within the Commonwealth.
Special extradition arrangements are also in place with Malaysia and Brunei based on mutual recognition of arrest warrants.
Conditions of an Extradition Treaty
Extradition from Foreign States
For extradition from Foreign States to Singapore, the offence committed must be an “extraditable crime” stated in the First Schedule of the EA. Some examples of extraditable crimes in Singapore include:
- Manslaughter or culpable homicide;
- Assault occasioning actual bodily harm;
- Stealing, embezzlement, receiving stolen property or any other offence in respect of property involving fraud;
- Burglary; and
Conditions of an Extradition Arrangement
Extradition from a Declared Commonwealth country
For extradition from a Declared Commonwealth country to Singapore, the offence must be an “extraditable crime” stated in the First Schedule of the EA, with the additional requirement that the offence must carry a maximum penalty of death or imprisonment for a period of at least 12 months.
However, where other offences have been committed, the accused (after being extradited back to Singapore):
- Can only be detained or tried in Singapore for an offence he is alleged to have committed before his surrender, that is:
- Related to the extraditable crime he was surrendered to Singapore for; or
- Lesser than that which he was surrendered to Singapore for.
- Cannot be detained or tried in Singapore for another extraditable crime unless the Commonwealth country he was surrendered by has consented to it.
- Can only be detained in Singapore for the purpose of surrendering him to another country for trial or punishment for the offence he is alleged to have committed before his surrender to Singapore, if:
- The offence is a lesser offence which he could be convicted of based on the proof of the facts on which his surrender was based; or
- The country he was surrendered by consents to it.
Extradition from Malaysia
For extradition from Malaysia, the crime need not fall within the list of “extraditable crimes” in the First Schedule of the EA.
Instead a person may be brought back to Singapore, to be dealt with by the proper authorities in accordance with Singapore law, so long as he/she is accused of or convicted of committing:
- A seizable offence (an offence for which the police can make an arrest without a warrant); or
- An offence punishable on conviction with imprisonment of at least 6 months under Malaysian law.
What Happens If an Accused Flees Singapore to a Country Which Singapore has Not Concluded an Extradition Treaty or Arrangement With?
In such a case, Singapore may still make a request to the country in question to extradite the person. However, there is a possibility that the country may reject the request.
For example, when the Canadian national involved in the 2016 Standard Chartered Robbery case fled to Thailand, a country with whom Singapore has no extradition treaty, the Attorney-General’s Office in Thailand rejected Singapore’s request for the person’s extradition on the basis that it was “not in a position to consider it”.
Instead, the Thai authorities convicted him for money laundering offences, as he had brought into Thailand a sum that exceeded the permitted US$20,000 (equivalent to around S$27,600 – believed to be proceeds from the bank heist in Singapore).
What can Singapore do if its extradition request to the other country is rejected?
The Singapore authorities may have to wait for the accused person to arrive in a different country (especially one with whom Singapore has an extradition treaty or arrangement), before making a new request to that country to secure his/her extradition.
This could apply where the accused person freely travels to another country (e.g. if he/she has not been detained under an arrest warrant), or during the process of his/her deportation.
This was exactly what the Singapore authorities did in the case of the Canadian national involved in the Standard Chartered robbery. After serving his 14-month sentence for money laundering in Thailand, he was deported from Bangkok to Canada. It was while he was in transit in London that British authorities swooped in to arrest him on Singapore’s request.
That said, efforts to secure the Canadian’s extradition to Singapore have since hit a snag. Although Britain’s Secretary of State had ordered the Canadian’s extradition to Singapore on 29 August 2018, he lodged an appeal against the decision two days later.
Time will tell if Singapore will ultimately succeed in securing his extradition.
Can a Country Reject Singapore’s Request for Extradition Despite the Presence of a Treaty?
There is a possibility that even countries that have signed extradition treaties with Singapore may reject Singapore’s request for extradition. This could happen if they are of the view that the request does not meet the requirements for extradition under their laws.
For example, this was cited by some observers as a possible reason for Hong Kong’s rejection of Singapore’s request for the extradition of Malaysian businessman Jho Low in connection with the state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) corruption probe, although Hong Kong did not make their reasons public.
In past cases, Singapore has shown its willingness to make concessions in order to meet the other country’s requirements for extradition under their laws.
The Singapore authorities justified these concessions by suggesting that they were necessary to avoid a situation where extradition of an accused person cannot be secured to bring him before the Singapore courts to face trial, which would allow the accused person to “go off scot-free”.
For example, Australian law forbids the extradition of an individual to a country if he/she could receive the death penalty. Hence in the 2002 Orchard Towers Murders case, Singapore had to agree to an undertaking not to subject the alleged killer to the death penalty, in order to secure his extradition from Australia to Singapore.
Before the Singapore court, the killer eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and disposing of the victims’ bodies, and was sentenced to 24 years’ imprisonment.
UK law also prohibits extradition of a person to Singapore if he may be punished by caning, in light of the UK’s 1948 abolition of caning as a punishment for criminals.
As such, in order to secure the extradition of the Canadian national involved in the 2016 Standard Chartered Robbery case from the UK, the Singapore government had to make an assurance to the UK authorities that he would not be caned.
Can an Extradition Request be Contested?
Depending on the terms of the extradition treaty and the extradition laws of the country in question, an accused person who is subject to an extradition request may have the option of contesting his/her extradition through an application with the court of the country in which he is being held.
The court would then assess the merits of his application before deciding on an outcome.
An example of a person who has sought a contest of his extradition would be the Canadian national involved in the 2016 Standard Chartered Robbery (as described above).
The Process of Extradition to Singapore
The following steps summarises the general process by which extradition of an accused person to Singapore occurs:
- Singapore requests for the International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL) to issue a Red Notice via the National Central Bureau, by providing information on the case. The Red Notice is a request to locate and provisionally arrest an individual pending extradition, and informs a foreign country that an accused person is wanted in that country.
- The authorities of the foreign country in question may issue a warrant for the arrest of the accused person, if they deem this justified based on the evidence in accordance with their laws. It should be noted that the arrest of an individual is subject to the determination of the authorities of the country in question. INTERPOL cannot compel any member country to arrest an individual who is the subject of a Red Notice.
- Singapore will make a formal extradition request to the country in question, seeking the accused person’s extradition to Singapore. Depending on the situation, this request may be made before the foreign country has issued an arrest warrant for the accused person’s arrest, or only after.
- The country in question would accept or reject the extradition request. The accused person may also be allowed to contest Singapore’s extradition request.
- If the foreign country has agreed to the extradition request, or the accused person’s application to contest extradition has failed, the accused person will be arrested.
- Singapore would then work together with the country in question to make arrangements for the accused person’s extradition to Singapore. Depending on the terms of the extradition treaty or a country’s extradition laws, there may be a maximum period of time for which the accused person can be held in custody in the foreign country, after which he/she would be released.
Once the accused person is in Singapore, he/she will be dealt with in accordance with Singapore law.
What Happens in Cases of Singaporeans Wanted for an Extradition Crime Overseas?
Just as one may be brought back to Singapore under the laws on extradition, a Singaporean wanted for an extradition crime overseas may also be extradited to the country in question if it has concluded an extradition treaty or arrangement with Singapore.
Singapore’s restrictions in approving the extradition requests
Under the EA, there are restrictions posed by Singapore in approving the extradition requests of other countries.
For example, Singapore would not surrender a fugitive to a Foreign State or Declared Commonwealth country:
- If the crime the fugitive is accused of committing is an offence of a political character;
- If there are reasonable grounds for believing that the:
- Request for extradition, despite being made in respect of an offence for which the fugitive would be liable to be surrendered, was made for the purpose of punishing the fugitive on account of his race, religion, nationality, or political opinions;
- The fugitive, if surrendered to the requesting country, may be prejudiced at trial, punished, detained, or restricted in his personal liberty, due to his race, religion, nationality, or political opinions; or
- If the fugitive has already been acquitted by a competent tribunal in any country, or has been punished by the law in another country for the same act constituting the offence in question.
For extradition to Declared Commonwealth countries and Malaysia, Singapore may also refuse to extradite a fugitive if it considers that it would be “unjust, oppressive or too severe a punishment to surrender the person”, by reason of:
- The trivial nature of the offence he/she is alleged to have committed;
- The accusation against the person not having been made in good faith or in the interests of justice; or
- The passage of time since the alleged offence.
Is Singapore Planning to Increase the Number of Countries it has Extradition Treaties or Arrangements With?
Singapore currently has extradition treaties and arrangements with over 40 countries. According to Senior Minister of State for Finance and Law Indranee Rajah, Singapore is open to concluding extradition treaties and arrangements with more countries.
However, a “careful and considered approach” would be taken to doing so. For Singapore to sign an extradition treaty with another country, both countries must share a common desire to enter an extradition arrangement.
The Singapore government would consider whether the extradition arrangement would be advantageous for both Singapore and the other country, and whether the legal systems of both countries are compatible, such that an arrangement that rationalises the differences in both countries’ legal systems can be arrived at.
With time, the number of extradition treaties concluded between Singapore and other countries will likely only increase.
One should think twice before engaging in criminal acts in Singapore, and especially if they think they can avoid the legal consequences by fleeing overseas. It is not that easy to escape the long arm of the law.
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