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Former MFA scholar jailed for forging emails to bring pet parakeets home

by October 22, 2016 General

This file photo shows a monk parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus) also known as the quaker parrot flying in Atena park, Madrid September 15, 2016. — AFP picThis file photo shows a monk parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus) also known as the quaker parrot flying in Atena park, Madrid September 15, 2016. — AFP picSINGAPORE, Oct 22 — Unhappy with the hassle of having to fulfil the quarantine requirements for his pet parakeets before they could be brought back here from Japan, a former Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) scholar decided to forge e-mails from Singaporean and Japanese officials related to the issue.

Jonathan Quek Zuo En’s actions not only landed him in jail, but also cost him both his job at the ministry and his scholarship.

Quek, 28, who was sentenced to three weeks’ jail yesterday, had pleaded guilty to two counts of forgery committed in September and October 2014.

Another count of providing false information to a public servant was taken into consideration for sentencing.

A district court heard that Quek had intended to bring his four pet parakeets back to Singapore from Japan, where he was completing his university studies.

In August 2014, he exchanged e-mails with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) to ask about the import requirements for the birds.

An AVA veterinarian, Dr Grace Sum, told Quek that the birds had to be isolated at a government-approved facility for 21 days before export, and had to be tested negative for the avian influenza during this period.

Quek, who was also in contact with the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), knew that Japan would follow the requirements of the importing country.

While he was back in Singapore on September 15, Quek sent an e-mail to the MAFF and attached a PDF document containing a fraudulently altered version of Dr Sum’s email to him in August.

He amended the email’s date and also its contents to give the MAFF the false impression that a 21-day isolation and an avian influenza test were not required.

As a result, the Japanese ministry issued export permits for the four parakeets.

Quek had admitted during the course of investigations that he made these alterations “out of convenience” and had wanted to bring the birds back to Singapore “without any hassle”, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Eugene Sng yesterday.

When the birds arrived in Singapore on Oct 4, 2014, Mercado Paulo Bien Lantican, an executive manager at Changi Animal and Plant Quarantine Station at the Changi Air Freight Centre, found that the export quarantine certificates produced by Quek did not comply with the AVA’s requirements.

When asked to provide the contact details of the MAFF staff so that the AVA could write to them directly, Quek said he would get them to contact Mercado directly.

On Oct 8, Mercado received an e-mail, supposedly from a Tatsuya Iwanaga, an animal quarantine officer with the MAFF.

The e-mail noted that the birds had been quarantined at another medical centre but it could not issue new export quarantine certificates without seeing the parakeets.

In fact, the e-mail was sent by Quek after he searched online on the methods to send “spoof” e-mails, and did so with the Japanese officer’s e-mail address.

Quek’s offences only came to light when Mercado’s subsequent exchanges with that e-mail address revealed that Iwanaga did not send out the Oct 8 e-mail, and had issued the certificates based on the attached e-mail Quek sent to MAFF.

Pressing for a four to six-week jail term, DPP Sng noted various aggravating factors in this case, such as how Quek had “knowingly exposed public health in Singapore to risk”.

In mitigation, defence lawyer Sunil Sudheesan argued that Quek had taken steps to minimise the exposure of risks of avian flu by ensuring the four birds were tested negative before flying them to Singapore.

He also noted that due to the case, Quek had to leave his job at the MFA and his scholarship bond prematurely terminated. Quek also had to reimburse about S$132,600 (RM398,028) to the ministry. — TODAY