Hong Kong has confirmed it will return the Terrex infantry carrier vehicles it seized in November to Singapore, adding that criminal prosecution will be initiated as the shipment breached Hong Kong laws.
The nine personnel carrier tanks belonging to the Singapore Armed Forces were confiscated by Hong Kong customs while they were being shipped from Taiwan, where the SAF conducts troop training.
Singapore's foreign ministry confirmed that Hong Kong government will release the Terrex vehicles after the completion of investigations. The consignment will be shipped through commercial shipping firm APL. "This is a positive outcome. Prime Minister Lee has replied to Chief Executive Leung to thank him for Hong Kong's cooperation in resolving this matter," MFA said in a statement.
However, Hong Kong Commissioner of Customs and Excise Roy Tang said the investigation into the incident will lead to criminal prosecution. "Import, export and transshipment/transit of strategic commodities in breach of licensing requirement are criminal offences punishable under the Hong Kong law," Tang said. "The action by the Hong Kong Customs on November 23, 2016 was taken because there was a suspected breach of the Hong Kong law," Hong Kong Customs said in a statement.
The authorities, however, did not specify who will be targeted in prosecution. Singapore has been shipping military equipment through commercial liners for the last 30 years and an incident such as this was the first ever, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen told parliament earlier.
The capture of vehicles was seen as China's retaliation against Singapore, which supported the International court's ruling that deprived China of wholesale claim to the disputed South China Sea.
China's Global Times had launched stern criticism of Singapore over its Taiwan ties after the carriers were intercepted by Hong Kong customs. The communist party mouthpiece accused the island nation of hypocrisy adding that Singapore was deliberately undermining the One-China principle which espouses the eventual merger of Taiwan with mainland under the same flag.
Though Singapore's military and other ties with Taiwan go back to the 1970s China's stance is that the island nation should not have continued the military partnership after it established diplomatic ties with Beijing in the 1990s.
Meanwhile, APL said it is working with the authorities to ship the vehicles and associated equipment from Hong Kong.
"SAF Terrexes are coming home to Singapore. Looking forward to this happy reunion with all Singaporeans in the Year of the Rooster," minister Ng said in a Facebook post.