Officers in MFA trespass case involving Malaysian teacher face disciplinary action

[UPDATE on Monday, 17 February, 5:15pm: Adding deployment of immigration officers]

Two ground commanders who last month failed to stop a Malaysian teacher from entering Singapore illegally through the Woodlands checkpoint have been redeployed to non-operational posts pending disciplinary action.

Their supervising officers overseeing operations will also be subject to the appropriate disciplinary action, along with other officers involved in the incident.

This was disclosed by Deputy Prime Minister, Home Affairs Minister and the Coordinating Minister of National Security Teo Chee Hean on Monday in response to questions from Members of Parliament.

Teo told the House that the ground commanders made a “serious error of judgement” as they should have sounded the alarm faster and classified the incident as a “breach of border security” instead of the less serious “immigration offence” when the Malaysian and her Malaysian-registered red Perodua slipped through the checkpoint.

He explained that the latter led to the police not triggering an alert that would have immediately directed patrol cars to mount road blocks at possible travel routes of the car in major parts of Singapore.

The Malaysian was only arrested three days after the incident which took place on 17 January. After slipping past the checkpoint without clearing any customs checks, she tailgated her way into Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) building compound where she was arrested by MFA’s security officers.

Teo added that the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) and police have produced a list of corrective actions and will have more frequent drills to ensure that such lapses do not happen again.

Charged with criminal trespass

The 28-year-old woman from Kedah, who's been identified by Malaysia's Foreign Affairs Ministry as Nurul Ruhana Binti Ishak, was charged on 22 January in Singapore with criminal trespass, media reports said.

She has been remanded at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) for a psychiatric assessment, police reportedly said as well.

Back in January, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean had expressed his "deep dissatisfaction" over the case.

"I have expressed my deep dissatisfaction to the Commissioner of ICA and the Commissioner of Police over the breach at Woodlands Checkpoint and the subsequent response actions," DPM Teo said in a media statement.

"This case should have been prevented and dealt with more urgently and decisively as it could have resulted in more serious consequences than what occurred. I have directed the Comissioners to report to me the corrective actions they are taking, and recommend appropriate action to be taken against officers who have not discharged their duties properly," he added.

According to an ICA joint statement, Nurul Ruhana, who is believed to have a history of mental illness, drove into Singapore on 17 January at about 1:58pm.

She tailgated her way through the checkpoint and managed to leave without being stopped, as the officers-in-charge did not immediately raise the alarm.  By the time the alarm was raised 2 minutes later and the arrival car zone was locked down, she had already left.

Despite a police islandwide advisory to look out for the woman and her car, she was only arrested three days later on Monday afternoon.

Today newspaper reported that police officers initally failed to recognise the woman or her car despite the islandwide alert, when they encountered her while helping a taxi driver whom she tailgated all the way into the Police Cantonment Complex.

She was finally arrested an hour later when she had entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs front gate off Holland Road by once again tailgating an authorised vehicle. She was driving around the compound for a few minutes before MFA security officers cornered her car, local media reported.

Back in January, the ICA and Police said they were reviewing security systems and work processes in view of the major security breach. 

 “This is a very serious lapse in our border security and we are disappointed by this incident. We will do a thorough investigation to prevent a similar occurrence. We will learn from the incident and further strengthen our security measures at the checkpoints to prevent a similar occurrence, ” said deputy Commissioner of ICA Mr Aw Kum Cheong.

Raja Kumar, Deputy Commissioner of Police added: “There is existing coordination between SPF and ICA at the Checkpoints to deal with potential threats. Police will work with ICA to study how we could further improve our incident response processes.”

Nurul Ruhana's next-of-kin were contacted to assist police here in investigations.

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