25 February 2018
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Apex court sets out when traffickers who divide and pack drugs may be considered couriers

TODAY
13 Feb 2018

A drug trafficker who divided and repacked drugs may still be considered merely a courier and stand a chance of escaping the gallows, said the Court of Appeal on Monday (Feb 12).

But the division and repacking must be for the purpose of transporting, sending or delivery of the drugs, the three-judge panel ruled as it upheld the death penalty for a 44-year old Singaporean heroin trafficker.

The acts must be incidental to, or necessary for transporting, sending or delivering the drugs, said Judge of Appeal Steven Chong, who ruled together with Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang.

For instance, an offender who wraps a packet of drugs to make the bundle more compact and easily transported could be said to be ensuring the success of its delivery.

Likewise, if the division or repacking was to prevent “inadvertent leakage or to allow for the placement of the drugs into confined spaces within the transporting vehicle”, said JA Chong.

However, “breaking bulk” to enable the original quantity of drugs to be transmitted to more than one recipient is “not a preparatory step to delivery but is an antecedent step that is involved in facilitating distribution to more than one recipient”, he said.

The offender has to provide evidence that he had a permissible reason or purpose for dividing and packing the drugs, he added.

Since 2013 when changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act kicked in, offenders determined to be couriers, and who are issued certificates of substantive assistance by the Public Prosecutor, may be sentenced to life imprisonment instead of the gallows.

The apex court was ruling in the case of Zainudin Mohamed, who was convicted in 2016 of possessing not less than 22.73g of heroin — or diamorphine — for the purposes of trafficking.

Zainudin got into the trade in 2014 after he fell into dire financial straits and was unable to service his home loan. A friend called “Boy Ahmad” suggested heroin trafficking to make “fast cash”.

On May 13, 2014, Zainudin received S$8,200 in cash and was paid S$300 by Boy Ahmad. He exchanged the cash for two “batu” (about 1kg) of drugs from a woman called Shanti Krishnan, who has been given a life sentence.

Zainudin was beginning to cut open one of the packets with a pair of scissors to divide and repack the contents, when Central Narcotics Bureau officers tried entering his flat.

In his appeal, defence lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam argued Zainudin was a courier who was dividing the drugs on Boy Ahmad’s instructions and was not exercising his own decision-making powers.

But JA Chong said: “If an offender is following instructions to sell and/or distribute the drugs, his role remains no less than that of a seller or distributor.”

The apex court added: “One might argue that the court’s decision as to whether an offender can be regarded as a courier ought not to turn on something so arbitrary as whether the drugs handed to him comes in an undivided whole or in already divided portions. But this argument entirely misses the significance of the act of division and packing for the purposes of distribution.”


MAN ON DEATH ROW ACQUITTED OF IMPORTING HEROIN BY COURT OF APPEAL

A Malaysian heroin importer on death row was acquitted on Monday (Feb 12) by the Court of Appeal in a 2-1 split decision.

Gopu Jaya Raman, now 31, had proved, on a balance of probabilities, he did not know drugs had been placed in the motorcycle he rode into Singapore through Woodlands Checkpoint on March 24, 2014, ruled Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash, the majority judges.

Gopu was caught by Immigration and Checkpoints Authority officers with three black bundles, containing not less than 46g of diamorphine, that were concealed in the space enclosed by the fenders of the motorcycle. He appeared confused and lost when confronted.

The unemployed man had done drug deliveries previously but maintained the drugs had been planted there that day without his knowledge, when he had entered Singapore to visit his girlfriend and another friend to celebrate his birthday.

On previous occasions, drugs had been packed in green bundles and covered with a scarf, then placed over the seat compartment lid which was covered by the seat.

Gopu had met with a traffic accident the day before, on March 23, 2014, and sustained injuries to his chest and leg. He asked his boss, who was only identified as Ganesh, for a RM150 (S$50) loan to see a doctor but Ganesh refused and asked him to see his friend, who was only identified as “Ah Boy”.

Gopu refused Ah Boy’s request to deliver drugs and Ah Boy had a discussion with Ganesh before passing the money to Gopu to see a doctor. Ah Boy told him Ganesh would call him later.

After he was caught, Gopu claimed he drafted a text message to Ganesh under the direction of a Central Narcotics Bureau officer, complaining Ganesh had not previously told him about the drugs.

According to Gopu, this showed the officer had believed he did not know about the drugs.

“There was no doubt in this case that Ganesh and Ah Boy wanted to transport the drugs into Singapore. The only question was whether (Gopu) was part of this plan,” said CJ Menon and JA Prakash, who found no objective evidence linking Gopu to the drugs.

JA Tay Yong Kwang was the dissenting judge. He found Gopu’s explanation for wanting to enter Singapore on March 24, 2014, not to be credible.

There was “absolutely no reason” for Ganesh and Ah Boy to resort to trickery to get Gopu to bring the drugs into Singapore, especially when Gopu still owed Ganesh half of an RM4,000 loan and needed a further loan for medical attention, JA Tay said.

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