Adili Chibuike Ejike v Public Prosecutor

CourtCourt of Appeal (Singapore)
JudgeSundaresh Menon CJ
Judgment Date27 May 2019
Neutral Citation[2019] SGCA 38
Citation[2019] SGCA 38
Docket NumberCriminal Appeal No 18 of 2017
Hearing Date18 October 2018
Plaintiff CounselMohamed Muzammil bin Mohamed (Muzammil & Company) and Lam Wai Seng (Lam W S & Co)
Defendant CounselChristina Koh, Tan Wee Hao, Desmond Chong and Wu Yu Jie (Attorney-General's Chambers)
Subject MatterCriminal Law,Elements of crime,Mens rea,Statutory offences,Misuse of Drugs Act,Illegal importation of controlled drugs
Published date13 June 2019
Sundaresh Menon CJ (delivering the judgment of the court): Introduction

Criminal Appeal No 18 of 2017 is brought by Adili Chibuike Ejike (“the Appellant”) against his conviction and sentence for importing not less than 1,961g of methamphetamine into Singapore, an offence under s 7 of the Misuse of Drugs Act (Cap 185, 2008 Rev Ed) (“the MDA”).

The Appellant had travelled to Singapore from Nigeria. At Customs, his luggage, specifically, a small suitcase, was examined and found to contain two packages wrapped in tape. These packages were later found to be the methamphetamine which was the subject matter of the charge brought against him. The Appellant contested the charge. At the trial, he did not appear to dispute the fact that he was in possession of the methamphetamine but focused instead on attempting to rebut the presumption of knowledge under s 18(2) of the MDA. The Appellant claimed that an acquaintance in Nigeria had agreed to give him some financial assistance if he delivered the case together with some money to an unspecified person in Singapore, and he further maintained that at all times, he did not know that the packages of methamphetamine were in the case.

After a trial, the High Court judge (“the Judge”) convicted the Appellant. As the Public Prosecutor did not issue a Certificate of Substantive Assistance under s 33B(2)(b) of the MDA, the Judge imposed the mandatory death sentence: see Public Prosecutor v Adili Chibuike Ejike [2017] SGHC 106 (“the GD”).

The principal issues in this case revolve around just what the Appellant did or did not know. The Prosecution relied on the statutory presumptions in ss 18(1) and 18(2) of the MDA. But because of the way in which the Prosecution and the Defence ran their respective cases at the trial, some difficult questions have arisen as to whether there are circumstances in which these presumptions may not be invoked, and as to the meaning and operation of the related concept of wilful blindness. In this judgment, we address these issues. Before doing so, we first recount the salient facts.

Facts Events leading to the Appellant’s arrest

The Appellant is a Nigerian citizen from the village of Oraifite in Nigeria. He was 28 years old at the time of the offence. Prior to coming to Singapore, he had worked in Nigeria for a supplier of fan belts for motor vehicles. He later set up his own business trading in fan belts in March 2010 but this failed within a year or so, and thereafter, he remained unemployed until the time of his arrest. His highest education level is Standard 6 at the primary level and he gave all his investigation statements as well as his evidence at the trial in the Ibo language through an interpreter.

The broad sequence of events leading to the Appellant’s arrest is not disputed. The Appellant applied for a passport for the first time in 2011 and it was issued on 19 April 2011. Sometime in August 2011, while in Nigeria, the Appellant contacted a childhood friend by the name of Chiedu Onwuku (“Chiedu”) for financial assistance. Chiedu agreed that he would give the Appellant a sum of between 200,000 and 300,000 naira (“Na”) (approximately equivalent to between US$1,324 and US$1,986). Chiedu told the Appellant to contact him in October 2011 to arrange the payment. Sometime between August and October 2011, Chiedu visited the Appellant at his village and asked for and took the Appellant’s passport “to do something with”, but did not tell him what that was. When the Appellant later called Chiedu in October, Chiedu told the Appellant to meet him in Lagos, Nigeria. The Appellant accordingly travelled to Lagos.

There, on 10 November 2011, the Appellant met with another childhood friend, one Izuchukwu Ibekwe (“Izuchukwu”) (who, it appears, was also working with Chiedu). Izuchukwu instructed the Appellant to travel to Singapore on 12 November 2011 with a piece of luggage, which he was to hand over to someone in Singapore. On 12 November 2011, the Appellant went to Izuchukwu’s home, where Izuchukwu handed the Appellant a brown trolley case, his passport, a set of travel and other documents and US$4,900 in cash. The Appellant was told that the contact details of the person to whom he was to deliver the case were written on the back of his e-Visa. On the reverse side of his e-Visa was written “ESP [XXXXXXXX]”. ESP apparently refers to ESP Lines (S) Pte Ltd (“ESP”), a Singapore company run by one Kervinn Leng Seng Yau (“Kervinn Leng”) (the GD at [16]). It seems that unbeknownst to the Appellant, Kervinn Leng had sponsored his e-Visa and [XXXXXXXX] was Kervinn Leng’s handphone number.

Izuchukwu and Chiedu then drove the Appellant and another male Nigerian, who was not known to the Appellant, to the airport. Izuchukwu and Chiedu dropped the Appellant and the other Nigerian man off at the airport and left. The Appellant and the other Nigerian man then each went their own way in the airport.

On 12 November 2011, the Appellant took a flight from Lagos to Singapore via Doha, Qatar. He arrived at Changi Airport Terminal 3 on 13 November 2011 at about 4.25pm. The other Nigerian man evidently also took the same flight and disembarked in Singapore. He is not otherwise relevant to the Appellant’s conviction or to the present appeal.

After passing through the Immigration checkpoint without incident, the Appellant was stopped at Customs as he was about to exit the Arrival Hall. His case was put through an X-ray machine and an image of darker density was observed on one side of the case. The case was then physically searched but nothing incriminating was found. It was therefore brought to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (“ICA”) Baggage Office for further inspection. The inner lining of one side of the bag was first cut and a packet wrapped in brown masking tape was found inside; the inner lining of the other side was then cut, revealing another packet wrapped in brown tape. A small cut was made on one of the packets and it was found to contain a white crystalline substance. The Appellant was placed under arrest for importing a controlled drug at about 8.25pm.

Among the Appellant’s other belongings were found: two calling cards, one labelled “Ejyke Investment Ltd” and the other, “Ejidon International Ltd”, both of which bore the Appellant’s name and photograph and purported to identify him as a director; and a vaccination certificate. These documents were false: the Appellant had never been involved with either of these companies, and he had also never been vaccinated.

The Appellant’s statements

The Appellant was subsequently charged with importing two packets containing not less than 1,961g of methamphetamine. His cautioned statement read:

Somebody gave those substance [sic] to me. I did not know what it was. If I knew what they were, I would not have accepted to carry those things.

At first blush, this might seem to imply that the Appellant was aware that the drug packets were concealed within the case since he did not disavow knowledge of the presence of “those substance” in the case, but merely denied knowing precisely what that substance was. However, the contents of the Appellant’s cautioned statement – and, in particular, his apparent admission that he knew he had “those substance” in his possession – could not be taken at face value in the light of the evidence given at the trial by the interpreter that the Appellant did in fact say that he had no idea what was inside the case. Given that evidence of the interpreter, we do not think that what the Appellant said in his cautioned statement can be taken as an admission that he was aware of the existence of the drugs that were hidden within the suitcase.

The Appellant also gave six long statements. All were admitted in evidence without objection. In these statements, consistent with our view on the correct understanding of his cautioned statement, the Appellant said that he did not pack the case himself, did not know what the case contained or why he had to deliver it, did not think about its contents, and had never asked these questions of Chiedu or Izuchukwu. In addition, he also made the following claims: He did not trust Izuchukwu and Chiedu. Izuchukwu told him to deliver the case to somebody in Singapore. After clearing Immigration and Customs, he was supposed to take a taxi to his hotel, and the person who was to collect the case would then come to the hotel. He said, “I could not remember which hotel I was supposed to go to. I also did not know how to contact the person. I also did not know the name of the person who would collect the case at the hotel.” The sum of US$4,900 was for him to spend on food, travelling expenses and accommodation during his time in Singapore “as and when necessary”. He thought that if there was any remaining balance after his trip, he would have to return it to Chiedu. He expressly denied that this sum of money was to be passed to anybody in Singapore.

The Prosecution’s case

The Prosecution relied on the presumption of possession under s 18(1) and the presumption of knowledge under s 18(2) of the MDA. It submitted that the Appellant had failed to rebut the presumption of knowledge because he was wilfully blind. In particular, it submitted that: The [Appellant] does not suffer from mild mental retardation and ought to be assessed as a reasonable person. The circumstances surrounding the [Appellant’s] task to deliver the luggage were extremely suspicious and the [Appellant] would have been put on notice. Notwithstanding this, the [Appellant] failed to make enquiries or take reasonable steps to find out what he had been tasked to deliver.

At the end of the trial, the Prosecution generally preferred and relied on what was stated in the Appellant’s investigation statements rather than the oral evidence he gave at the trial. In particular, it accepted the Appellant’s...

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6 cases
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    • 2 July 2019 traffic the same and I deal with this issue first. Recently, the Court of Appeal, in Adili Chibuike Ejike v Public Prosecutor [2019] SGCA 38 (“Adili”), had the opportunity to examine the concept of wilful blindness, albeit in a slightly different context of s 18(1) of the MDA. In the pre......
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