Singapore’s Extraterritorial Jurisdiction: What Does It Mean?

Last updated on March 31, 2023

Man handcuffed by police

Travelling overseas entails exciting adventures, and it is often tempting to experience new things that you otherwise would not have the chance to do in Singapore. Sometimes, these “new things” may even be illegal in Singapore (e.g., doing drugs), but does an escape from everyday life in Singapore means an escape from its laws?

You may think that Singapore’s laws are not universal and have no hold on you when you are abroad. However, in actuality, even if an act is not illegal in the country you visit, if it is a crime in Singapore, you can be charged and punished accordingly.

This was made apparent in the cases of local Olympic swimming champion, Joseph Schooling, and fellow swimmer, Amanda Lim. Both national athletes made headlines in 2022 when they admitted to taking cannabis whilst overseas. Though legal in the countries they had used the drugs, the pair faced consequences in Singapore, with Lim receiving a stern warning, while Schooling had his short-term disruption from full-time National Service (NS) privilege revoked.

So why exactly were Joseph Schooling, and Amanda Lim, still found guilty of offences when they had not committed their crimes in Singapore? The answer to that lies in extraterritorial jurisdiction, which this article will detail. It will cover:

What is Extraterritorial Jurisdiction?

Extraterritorial jurisdiction refers to a government’s ability to exercise its power beyond the country’s borders. Extraterritorial laws extend law enforcement beyond a country’s territorial boundaries that enable a country to apply and enforce its laws on its citizens, even if the offence was committed in another country.

This means that even if you have committed a criminal act overseas, you will still be held liable for the offence and can be prosecuted accordingly.

What are the Laws in Singapore That have Extraterritorial Reach?

Singapore’s laws are generally not extraterritorial in nature unless they are expressly provided for in the relevant legislation. These laws are applicable to both Singaporean and permanent residents alike and include the following:

Offences that have been listed under the Schedule of the Penal Code

In accordance with section 4B of the Penal Code, an offence that falls under the Schedule of the Penal Code is deemed to have been committed in Singapore if: 

  1. An act of the offence occurs in Singapore while an act of a similar nature occurs outside Singapore; or
  2. The offence occurs partly in Singapore and partly outside Singapore, whether other relevant acts of the offence occur in Singapore; or
  3. The offence was intended to make a gain, loss or cause harm to any person in body, mind, reputation, or property. The gain, loss or harm must have occurred in Singapore.

These offences include (but are not limited to):

  • Theft
  • Extortion; and
  • Robbery.

You may wish to read our other article to find out about the differences between theft, extortion and robbery.

Corruption, bribery, and the abetment of similar acts

Under section 37 of the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), a person who commits any offence that falls under the PCA outside of Singapore (e.g., corruption and bribery), will still be regarded as if the crime was done within Singapore. This means that if an act of bribery happens outside of Singapore, but is done by a Singapore citizen, the individual in question will be prosecuted in Singapore. 

Non-compliance with the Securities and Futures Act

Under section 339(1) of the Securities and Futures Act (SFA), if a person fails to adhere to the SFA and commits an offence, even if it was done partly outside of Singapore, they will be dealt with as if the offence was committed in Singapore.

This entails a broad range of offences, including any misconduct pertaining to insider training and other market misconduct. An example is front-running, where offenders reap profits from otherwise confidential information on transactions which greatly influence security prices. Following this example, Singapore citizens who obtain advanced non-public information about transactions and purchase a security outside of Singapore, can still be investigated and punished in Singapore.

Acts of terrorism

Under section 34 of the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act (TSOFA), Singapore citizens who commit terrorist acts overseas will still be charged and dealt with as if they had been committed in Singapore.     

This includes any attempt or abetment of the provision of property and services to a terrorist, or the use or possession of a property for terrorist purposes. Property could include any kind of asset, ranging from money to buildings. For example, if you were to commit fraud or misuse non-profit organisations to aid in terrorist funding abroad, you will be committing an offence under the TSOFA.

Usage of drugs

The Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) provides for two scenarios in which an offender may be caught for committing drug-related offences overseas and prosecuted in Singapore.

  1. Section 8A: If a Singapore citizen or permanent resident of Singapore takes a urine test, and is found to have consumed a drug overseas, they will be dealt with as if the offence occurred in Singapore.
  2. Section 13: If a person aids or procures the commission of an offence under the MDA overseas, they will be guilty of an offence. For example, if an individual abets a minor to consume drugs abroad, they will be prosecuted accordingly.

Misuse of personal data

The Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) sets the standard for the usage of personal data in Singapore. The PDPA has extraterritorial reach, which extends its application to organisations beyond those with a physical presence in Singapore. As long as a company collects, uses, or discloses personal data in Singapore, it must comply with the proper data usage regulations which state that e.g., personal data collected by organisations should not be transferred to countries outside of Singapore, unless otherwise specified by the PDPA.

Threats to Singapore’s cybersecurity

Originally enacted to monitor any unauthorised use of computers to access or modify data, the Computer Misuse and Cyber Security Act was amended to possess extraterritorial reach. This meant that acts committed overseas by individuals residing in Singapore (e.g., obtaining unauthorised access to computer material with the intent to use it to commit an offence) are criminalised.

The extraterritorial reach also protects Singapore from any threats against a computer, a programme, or data, as perpetrators are still held accountable even if they reside outside of Singapore.

What Happens When Extraterritorial Offences are Committed?

If you have committed an extraterritorial crime and are caught, your case will be handled as though the offence was committed in Singapore. This means that you will be charged and prosecuted in accordance with the applicable Singapore laws that govern your offence.

Case of a financial crime

In 2017, siblings, Judy Teo Suya Bik and Teo Chu Ha Henry, were charged in court for offences under the PCA. The pair had committed several offences overseas, including conspiring to share confidential business information with companies in China.

Between 2007 and 2010, Henry, who was a senior director of Seagate, leaked private information to his sister, Judy, who was not an employee. She then passed the information to two other Chinese companies, and received a fee for helping them to secure contracts with Seagate. As a result, Judy received S$2.32 million in bribes, with Henry using some of the money to buy a condominium unit as well.

Ultimately, the pair were caught when the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) worked closely with Chinese authorities as part of a protracted investigation into the offences committed overseas. Even though the offences took place outside of Singapore, Henry and Judy were still found liable and were investigated and charged accordingly in Singapore. In the end, Henry was sentenced to an imprisonment term of 50 months, while Judy was sentenced to an imprisonment term of 41 months. She was also ordered to pay a penalty amounting to S$2,320,864.10 million.

Case of a drug-related offence

In cases of drug use in other countries, offenders are usually exposed through a urine test that is conducted upon their arrival. Random checks are carried out at various checkpoints in Singapore, and you will be arrested if you are found to have drugs in your system. This was what happened in the case of Debbie Valerie Tenashar Long, a Singaporean DJ who had consumed drugs during her trip to Amsterdam in October 2015.

Long, along with her partner at the time, was arrested on suspicion of drug offences by Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officers at the arrival hall of Changi Airport Terminal 1. Subsequently, a urine test was administered and Long tested positive for drugs. Drugs were also uncovered in Long’s luggage, and it was revealed that she had bought them in Amsterdam and intended to consume them in Singapore.

Following her failed urine test, Long was found guilty of the possession and consumption of drugs overseas, which is an offence punishable by law in Singapore. As a result, she was sentenced to an imprisonment term of 18 months.

Similarly, if you are suspected of committing a criminal offence overseas, you may be subject to police investigation on your arrival in Singapore. If so, you may wish to consult a criminal lawyer who would be better able to assess your case and advise on any possible defences that you might have.

For more information on the investigative process, do read our article on what you should do if you are investigated for a criminal offence

Subsequently, if you are charged with an offence, your case will be dealt with by the Singapore courts, even though your offence was committed abroad. This means that if you are found guilty, the penalties you face will be what the Singapore law dictates.

For more information, do refer to our other articles on criminal proceedings in Singapore.

Ultimately, leaving Singapore does not mean that you are pardoned from being prosecuted for any criminal offences that you might have committed overseas.

It is important to be mindful of the fact that you can still face criminal prosecution if they are regarded as a crime in Singapore. If you have been charged in Singapore for criminal offences that you committed overseas, do reach out to a criminal defence lawyer

A criminal lawyer will be able to assess your case and advise you on the various options that may be available to you if you are facing such a criminal charge.

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