Local singer fined S$30,600 for GST evasion while importing branded goods for business

(PHOTO: Nur Sarah Instagram)

SINGAPORE — A winner of a local reality singing competition was fined S$30,600 on Thursday (10 October) for failing to pay the Goods and Service Tax (GST) on goods brought into Singapore between 2015 and 2017.

Nur Sarah Aqilah Sumathi paid S$10,000 of her fine and was ordered to pay the balance of S$20,600 on 10 December 2019.

She pleaded guilty to two charges of fraudulently evading GST amounting to S$6,184.82. Another five charges of a similar nature were taken into consideration for her sentencing. The 35-year-old was the winner of singing competition Anugerah on Mediacorp’s Suria in 2009.

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Apart from adhoc media appearances, Sarah worked as a personal shopper for her business BFF Avenue By Sarah Aqilah. Her job included travelling overseas to purchase designer items, such as handbags, wallets and shoes, at discounted prices for customers and selling the items on Instagram. She would travel at least three times a year to fulfil purchase orders and bring the goods back in her suitcase.

Between June 2015 and November 2017, Sarah brought 141 pieces of branded items worth over S$205,980 for GST payment from overseas but failed to declare them. The total amount of GST evaded amounted to some S$14,460, according to a Singapore Customs press release on Thursday.

In 2017, Sarah, a mother of three, expanded her business and began to provide personal shopping and concierge services for her clients through social media platforms during her travels overseas. However she did not declare the goods and pay GST upon her return to Singapore, stated the press release.

Acting on information it received, Singapore Customs investigated Sarah’s business activities and unearthed the offences.

Sarah’s lawyer, Sofia Bakhash, sought a fine for her client and requested for an instalment period of 12 months for Sarah to pay the fine.

“These amounts are relatively large and she has had to take out several loans from her sister-in-law of $80,000,” said Sofa.

“(Sarah) was stopped by Customs on 23 January 2018 on her return from one of her trips overseas. It was then that the items she purchased were seized,” she added.

As the items were not delivered, clients asked her for a refund and Sarah had to take a loan for the repayments, said the lawyer. Sarah now has to repay the loan, Sofia added.

Since news broke about Sarah’s offences, she has “suffered setbacks in her media appearances” and faces the possibility of losing media appearances as a source of income, the lawyer said in documents. Sarah’s husband’s income has also dipped due to his association with Sarah, causing the couple’s average monthly income to drop from S$13,800 to S$9,000.

Submitting a report of Sarah’s monthly expenses, which amount to S$8,641.55, to the court, Sofia said it would “truly be a burden” for her client to pay the fines upfront.

Sarah also has three young children who depend on her income and has been “battling with civil proceedings” since January last year, stated the lawyer. The nature of the civil proceedings was not revealed in court.

“All this has placed an emotional and mental strain on her and she seeks the court’s understanding and indulgence in allowing her to have some leeway in making amends to her offence,” said Sofia, who added that her client was remorseful and cooperated with the authorities throughout investigations.

Since January last year, Sarah has appointed a shipping company in Singapore to assist with the importation of goods.