Public Prosecutor v Ilechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudi

JurisdictionSingapore
JudgeChao Hick Tin JA
Judgment Date29 June 2015
Neutral Citation[2015] SGCA 33
CourtCourt of Appeal (Singapore)
Hearing Date09 April 2015
Docket NumberCriminal Appeal No 10 of 2014
Plaintiff CounselNg Cheng Thiam and Chee Min Ping (Attorney-General's Chambers)
Defendant CounselEugene Thuraisingam and Jerrie Tan (Eugene Thuraisingam LLP)
Subject MatterCriminal Law,Statutory Offences,Misuse of Drugs Act
Published date12 August 2017
Chao Hick Tin JA (delivering the judgment of the court): Introduction

This is an appeal by the Prosecution against the acquittal of Ilechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudi (“the Respondent”), a 29-year-old Nigerian national on a drug trafficking charge. He had brought into Singapore from Nigeria a black luggage bag (“the Black Luggage”) which he later transferred to one Hamidah Binte Awang (“Hamidah”), a 49-year-old Singaporean. Hamidah sought to bring the Black Luggage into Malaysia through the Causeway at Woodlands Checkpoint but it was intercepted by the authorities. The sides of the Black Luggage were cut open and two packets of crystalline substance wrapped in brown packaging (“the two brown packets”) were discovered within the lining. After analysis by the Health Sciences Authority, it was found that the two brown packets contained not less than 1963.3g of methamphetamine (“the Drugs”).

The Respondent was charged with trafficking not less than 1,963.3g of methamphetamine under s 5(1)(a) of the Misuse of Drugs Act (Cap 185, 2008 Rev Ed) (“MDA”). The charge against him reads as follows:

That you, ILECHUKWU UCHECHUKWU CHUKWUDI,

on the 13th day of November 2011, sometime between 10.16 p.m. and 11.34 p.m., along River Valley Road, Singapore, did traffic in a 'Class A' controlled drug listed in the First Schedule to the Misuse of Drugs Act (Cap. 185, 2008 Rev. Ed), to wit, by giving to one Hamidah Binte Awang (NRIC No. [redacted]) a trolley bag which contained two packets containing 2,496 grams of crystalline substance, which was analysed and found to contain not less than 1,963.3 grams of methamphetamine, without any authorization under the said Act or the Regulations made thereunder, and you have thereby committed an offence under section 5(l)(a) and punishable under section 33 of the said Act, and further upon your conviction under section 5(1) of the said Act, you may alternatively be liable to be punished under section 33B of the said Act. [emphasis in bold in original]

Hamidah was also charged with attempting to export not less than 1,963.3g of methamphetamine, an offence under s 7 read with s 12 of the MDA, and punishable under s 33 or s 33B of the MDA.

Both the Respondent and Hamidah claimed trial. Both denied knowledge of the Drugs in the Black Luggage. On 5 November 2014, the trial judge (“the Judge”) acquitted 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 the presumption of knowledge of the nature of the Drugs under s 18(2) of the MDA. The Judge accepted the Respondent’s defence that he had come to Singapore on business and he did not know that the Black Luggage, which had only been handed to him at the airport in Lagos, Nigeria, contained drugs. This was despite numerous untruths in the Respondent’s statements to officers from the Central Narcotics Bureau (“CNB”).

The Prosecution appealed the acquittal of the Respondent. That is the only matter that is now under consideration before this court. The matter of Hamidah’s conviction was not before us.

Background

The story begins in Nigeria, but there is no objective evidence of what took place there, save for the Respondent’s account. According to him, his purpose for coming to Singapore was to purchase used laptops for sale back home, where he ran a business of selling second-hand electronic goods. He says that a childhood friend, one Izuchukwu, had introduced him to one Kingsley, who had contacts in Singapore. He did not know Kingsley very well, but he relied on Kingsley to provide him with a Singaporean contact upon arrival. It is the Respondent’s evidence that on the day of his departure from Nigeria (12 November 2011), the Respondent had only brought a laptop bag containing his belongings to the airport in Lagos, where he met Kingsley and Izuchukwu. Kingsley passed the Respondent the Black Luggage with a request to hand it over to the contact in Singapore, who would then help the Respondent source for second-hand electronic goods. The Respondent was informed that the Black Luggage contained clothes belonging to the contact in Singapore. However, Kingsley declined to give the Respondent any details of the contact in Singapore, even when he (the Respondent) requested for them. The Respondent proceeded to inspect the Black Luggage, not because he was suspicious, but because, as he said, it was customary to do so. He found nothing amiss. The Respondent also says that the Black Luggage underwent a physical check as well as an X-ray scan at the immigration counter in the Lagos airport prior to check-in without incident.

On 13 November 2011, the Respondent arrived in Singapore. It is not disputed that, after arrival, the Respondent was delayed at immigration at Changi Airport. During this time, he received a number of SMS messages from a Nigerian number showing concern about the hold up (these are set out at [49] of the GD). The Respondent’s evidence is that the messages were sent by Izuchukwu, who was a travel agent and had helped the Respondent deal with his travel arrangements. One of the SMS messages referred to a bag, stating: “Go nd cary ur bag Delet”. The Respondent said it meant “go and carry your bag” but claimed not to know what “Delet” meant. Another text told him to inform the officers to call “ESP” if he encountered delays or problems at Changi Airport. ESP refers to ESP Lines (S) Pte Ltd, a Singaporean freight forwarding company. Kervinn Leng Seng Yau (“Kervinn”), the director of ESP, had made the necessary arrangements to sponsor both the Respondent’s and another person, Adili’s, visit to Singapore.

We should add that the Respondent was also told to look out for Adili, or Diley (and was so referred to in the transcript of the trial), who was on the same flight with him. Izuchukwu had informed the Respondent that Izuchukwu had also arranged for the visa to be issued to Adili for his trip to Singapore. The Respondent and Adili eventually met in a room pending immigration clearance.1

After clearing immigration, the Respondent and Adili approached the Baggage Claim counter. The Respondent collected the Black Luggage. Subsequently, the Black Luggage was subjected to both an X-ray scan and a physical search. As nothing was found, the Respondent was allowed to leave Changi Airport.

According to the Respondent, he had first gone to Kim Tian Hotel in Geylang. When he reached that hotel, Kingsley called him and told him to go to Hotel 81, Chinatown (“Hotel 81”) instead. The Respondent obliged. CCTV footage showed the Respondent arriving at Hotel 81 at about 8.36 pm. The Respondent was seen speaking to the staff at the Hotel 81 lobby. He then left Hotel 81 after depositing the Black Luggage at the hotel lobby, and returned 12 minutes later. The Respondent says that he went out to find a moneychanger as he did not have enough Singapore dollars on him to pay for the room in the hotel. When he returned, he paid for only one night’s stay on the premise that he was going to be meeting Kingsley’s contact the following day.

Shortly after, the Respondent received a call from Kingsley’s contact who told the Respondent that a woman (presumably he meant Hamidah) would be collecting the Black Luggage from the Respondent. Hamidah later contacted the Respondent. As Hamidah did not know the way to Hotel 81, it was decided that the Respondent would take a taxi and meet her at Clarke Quay instead. The Respondent alighted when the taxi stopped at a bus stop. While it is not disputed that the Respondent and Hamidah did meet, there is no objective evidence as to what took place beyond their respective testimonies.

According to the Respondent, he placed the Black Luggage at the interior of the bus stop. As Hamidah was unable to find the Respondent and he was unable to describe his location, he left the Black Luggage where it was and walked towards a Caucasian male near the bus stop, and asked him to give directions to Hamidah, who was on the other end of the line. When Hamidah arrived, she alighted from the car, and thanked the Caucasian male. Hamidah introduced herself to the Respondent as “Maria”.2 While Hamidah had testified that the Respondent looked nervous, the Respondent argued that she might have misinterpreted his reaction and that, even if the Respondent appeared worried, it was because he was a first-timer in Singapore in an unfamiliar location.

It was the evidence of both Hamidah and the Respondent that they did not part immediately after the Black Luggage was handed over. Hamidah apparently invited him to enter the car where they made small talk. The Respondent informed Hamidah that he was hungry and she drove him to an African restaurant. However, as the restaurant was closed, she gave him two 100-plus can drinks from her boot instead. Sometime while they were in the car together, the Respondent dropped his handphone in Hamidah’s drink. Hamidah said it was because he seemed nervous. The Respondent said it was because he was cold. She later dropped him off at a taxi stand in Clarke Quay. The Respondent then made his way back to Hotel 81. CCTV footage showed him going up to his room without the Black Luggage at 11.34pm.

After Hamidah dropped the Respondent off, she drove towards the Woodlands Checkpoint. It was around 11.55pm when she was stopped at Woodlands Checkpoint for a search. The Drugs were then found in the Black Luggage and Hamidah was arrested.

The Respondent was arrested in Hotel 81 the next morning (14 November 2011). Subsequently, he gave a number of statements to CNB officers containing numerous untruths, as well as omissions about facts he only raised in his defence at trial. The statements are as follows: The First Statement: the...

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