Public Prosecutor v Hamidah Binte Awang and another

JudgeLee Seiu Kin J
Judgment Date08 January 2015
Neutral Citation[2015] SGHC 4
Citation[2015] SGHC 4
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Published date17 October 2015
Docket NumberCriminal Case No 32 of 2014
Plaintiff CounselNg Cheng Thiam and Chee Min Ping (Attorney-General's Chambers)
Defendant CounselAmolat Singh (Amolat & Partners) and Supramaniam Rajan (Hilborne Law LLC),Eugene Thuraisingam and Jerrie Tan (Eugene Thuraisingam)
Subject MatterCriminal Law,Statutory offences,Misuse of Drugs Act
Hearing Date12 September 2014,23 September 2014,24 September 2014,06 November 2014,05 November 2014,17 September 2014,10 September 2014,25 September 2014
Lee Seiu Kin J: Introduction

This is a case where controlled drugs, concealed in a luggage bag, were brought from Nigeria to Singapore for delivery to Malaysia via the Woodlands Causeway. The evidence established that the luggage bag was brought into Singapore by the second accused, Ilechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudi (“Ilechukwu”), a 29 year old Nigerian male, and handed over to the first accused, Hamidah Binte Awang (“Hamidah”), a 49 year old Singaporean female, to be delivered into Malaysia. The issue was whether they had knowledge of the drugs concealed in the luggage bag.

Hamidah was charged with attempting to export not less than 1,963.3g of methamphetamine, an offence under s 7 read with s 12 of the Misuse of Drugs Act (Cap 185, 2008 Rev Ed) (“MDA”), punishable under s 33 or s 33B of the MDA. Ilechukwu was charged with trafficking by giving to Hamidah not less than 1,963.3g of methamphetamine, an offence under s 5(1)(a) of the MDA, punishable under s 33 or s 33B of the MDA.

Both Hamidah and Ilechukwu claimed trial. At the end of the trial, I convicted Hamidah and acquitted Ilechukwu. I now give my reasons.

Prosecution’s case

On 13 November 2011, Ilechukwu flew from Lagos, Nigeria to Singapore. He had checked in a black luggage bag bearing a logo which reads “Star Express” (“the Black Luggage”).1 Upon his arrival in Singapore, Ilechukwu collected the Black Luggage from the luggage belt and eventually made his way to Hotel 81, Chinatown at 8.36pm.2 At 10.16pm, Ilechukwu left the hotel with the Black Luggage.3 He met Hamidah and handed her the Black Luggage.4 Hamidah placed the Black Luggage in the boot of her car and eventually made her way to the Woodlands Checkpoint.5

At the Woodlands Checkpoint, Hamidah was stopped and her car was searched.6 The Black Luggage was cut open at the sides and two packets of crystalline substance wrapped in brown packaging were recovered (exhibited and marked P3 and P4).7 Hamidah was then arrested. The next morning, Ilechukwu was arrested in his room at Hotel 81, Chinatown.

The two packets of crystalline substance marked A1 and A2 were subsequently analysed by the Health Sciences Authority. The analysis revealed that A1 contained not less than 980.2g of methamphetamine and A2 contained not less than 983.1g of methamphetamine8, adding to a total of not less than 1963.3g of methamphetamine (“the Drugs”).

Hamidah did not dispute that she was, at the time of her arrest, in control and possession of the Black Luggage in which the Drugs were found.9 However, she denied knowledge of the Drugs in the Black Luggage. Ilechukwu similarly denied knowledge. Since Hamidah and Ilechukwu had the Black Luggage in their possession at the material time, by virtue of s 18(1)(a) of the MDA, the Drugs were presumed to have been in their possession at those times. Pursuant to s 18(2) of the MDA, they were also presumed, until the contrary was proven, to have known the nature of the Drugs.

The crux of the case, therefore, was whether Hamidah and Ilechukwu could prove on a balance of probability that each of them did not know about the Drugs: Nagaenthran a/l K Dharmalingam v Public Prosecutor [2011] 4 SLR 1156 (“Nagaenthran”) at [23]–[24] and [31]. The prosecution took the position that both Hamidah and Ilechukwu had not rebutted the presumption of knowledge under s 18(2) of the MDA. I now turn to their respective cases and my reasons, starting with Hamidah.

Reasons for Hamidah’s conviction

Hamidah’s case was essentially one of trust and betrayal. Her evidence was that she did not know that the Black Luggage contained the Drugs. She was asked by her lover, Bengoodman Chukwunonso (“Bengoodman”), whom she trusted, to deliver a piece of luggage to him in Malaysia.10 He told her that it contained two Nigerian passports. Hamidah added that when she received the Black Luggage, she had checked to make sure that it did not contain any drugs.11

I found that Hamidah had not rebutted the presumption of knowledge under s 18(2) of the MDA for the following reasons: Hamidah’s defence did not paint a consistent story; and Hamidah’s behaviour at the time of arrest. I will elaborate on my reasons below.

Hamidah’s inconsistent defence

Mr Amolat Singh (“Mr Singh”), counsel for Hamidah, argued that she was a “simpleton” who had been tricked by her lover, Bengoodman. Hamidah’s evidence was that she had met Bengoodman in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and eventually became intimately involved with him.12 To support this, Mr Singh highlighted the phone records and in particular the short messaging service (“SMS”) message sent by Hamidah to Bengoodman, a few days before the date of her arrest, on 11 November 2011, which reads:13

Bengood men you never change since i no you i no you always make me like a fool i thank you for tat i test you so many things wat i can see you dont really luv me i no you are married i dont no why i still luv you ben all the money tat you gv is for my debt not tat i use to enjoy myself and one thing abt you when i want to discuss something you like to ascape so you not really serious ben so i dont no wat to say again so left everything to GOD hands thank you ben [emphasis added]

While this is evidence that Hamidah has had an intimate relationship with Bengoodman, it is equivocal as to whether she trusted him at the material time. The message contains expressions of disappointment and betrayal, and it is not clear from her evidence whether their relationship had, by 13 November 2011, been restored to the level that she would trust that he would not put her in harm’s way. The evidence would suggest that Hamidah was infatuated with Bengoodman, but that could also mean that she was willing to transport drugs for Bengoodman to prove her affection for him.

More importantly, Hamidah had given evidence which would indicate that she did not believe that Bengoodman would never use her to transport drugs. Her assessment of Bengoodman in court suggested that she could not have believed that Bengoodman would not harm her. Hamidah admitted during cross-examination that she knew very little about Bengoodman,14 and that she did not trust him completely.15 Among other things, Hamidah accepted that she knew that Bengoodman cheated women of their money.16 It was also apparent from the SMS message dated 11 November 2011 ([11] above) that she had doubts about whether Bengoodman actually loved her.

Further evidence of distrust is found in certain aspects of Hamidah’s conduct. Hamidah gave evidence that she had checked the Black Luggage for drugs when Ilechukwu handed it to her, as advised by her Nigerian fiancé, Simwuba Samuel (“Samuel”).17 It was also revealed during the trial that she had previously delivered a luggage, said to contain “traditional Nigerian clothes”, to Bengoodman in Malaysia ([16] below). Hamidah’s evidence was that she had also checked the contents of the luggage for drugs on that occasion.18 This would be inconsistent with Hamidah’s case that she had trusted Bengoodman and genuinely believed that he would not have used her to transport drugs. On the contrary, if these checks were made, it would be precisely because Hamidah did not trust or believe Bengoodman.

If Hamidah had been the trusting simpleton that Mr Singh had submitted, it is puzzling that she did not show any sign of shock or disbelief when the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (“ICA”) officers at Woodlands Checkpoint cut the Black Luggage and took out the Drugs in her presence. There was no evidence from her or from any of the officers present that she had reacted in this manner.

Hamidah also described an earlier delivery. About one or two months before Hamidah was arrested, Bengoodman had asked her to pick up a bag of “traditional Nigerian clothes” from a couple who had just arrived in Singapore and deliver it to him in Malaysia.19 As she was planning to visit her mother in Malaysia, Hamidah said that she agreed to help Bengoodman “as a favour for a friend”.20 She got the contact details of the couple from Bengoodman and met them at the lobby of Hotel 81, Geylang.21 Hamidah’s evidence was that she had requested to see the contents of the bag to make sure that the bag did not contain “drugs or anything illegal”.22 She then delivered the bag to Bengoodman at his condominium in Malaysia.23

After this first delivery, Bengoodman again contacted Hamidah on 2 November 2011. Hamidah received two SMS messages from Bengoodman in the wee hours of the morning:24

From/To Time Message
Bengoodman to Hamidah 1.56am [phone number redacted] izube
Bengoodman to Hamidah 1.57am Cl him now then tomorrow u collect it ok.

Hamidah’s evidence was that she did not call “izube”.25 Hamidah said she did not ask Bengoodman what was the item that she was supposed to collect, but later prevaricated and said that she had asked but Bengoodman refused to tell her.26 Hamidah claimed that she did not mention this incident in her statements because she had forgotten about it.27

The third request was made a few days later on 7 November 2011. Hamidah’s phone records revealed the following SMS messages:28

From/To Time Message
Bengoodman to Hamidah 9.20pm Wait bee
Hamidah to Bengoodman 9.21pm Everything ok at the airport
Bengoodman to Hamidah 9.22pm Yes
Hamidah to Bengoodman 9.46pm Beeeeeeeeeeeee
Bengoodman to Hamidah 9.49pm Wait plz u know landing time is 10:35. Then before they wil be free u can go and collect it. If there is any problem I tell u just wait no problem at all.
Hamidah to Bengoodman 9.52pm You dey craze
Bengoodman to Hamidah 10.38pm Hotel 81 palace no25 lorong 16 geylang 398867 singapore. Telefone number is [XXX]
Hamidah to Bengoodman 10.40pm You want me to call now
Bengoodman to Hamidah 10.40pm Yes
...

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5 cases
  • Public Prosecutor v Ilechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudi
    • Singapore
    • Court of Appeal (Singapore)
    • 29 June 2015
    ...the Respondent and convicted Hamidah. His written grounds of decision are reported at Public Prosecutor v Hamidah Binte Awang and another [2015] SGHC 4 (“the GD”). In determining that the Respondent was not guilty of the charge against him, the Judge found that the Respondent had rebutted t......
  • Ilechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudi v Public Prosecutor
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    • Court of Appeal (Singapore)
    • 2 August 2017
    ...At the end of the trial, the Judge acquitted the Applicant but convicted Hamidah (see Public Prosecutor v Hamidah Binte Awang and another [2015] SGHC 4). The Prosecution appealed against the Applicant’s acquittal by way of Criminal Appeal No 10 of 2014 (“CCA 10/2014”). On 29 June 2015, we a......
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    • Singapore
    • Court of Appeal (Singapore)
    • 17 September 2020
    ...carried the death penalty. The Applicant was acquitted of the charge against him in Public Prosecutor v Hamidah Binte Awang and another [2015] SGHC 4 (hereinafter, “HC (Acquittal)”). The Judge had, at [48], accepted the Applicant’s testimony that he came to Singapore to purchase electronic ......
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    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
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    ...Act”). Full details of the trial and my findings are in my grounds of decision in Public Prosecutor v Hamidah Binte Awang and another [2015] SGHC 4 dated 8 January 2015. On 8 October 2015, the first accused was brought before me for sentencing. The learned Deputy produced a memorandum in wh......
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