Tan Boon Tat v Public Prosecutor

JudgeKarthigesu J
Judgment Date31 March 1992
Neutral Citation[1992] SGCA 22
Docket NumberCriminal Appeal No 1 of 1990
Date31 March 1992
Published date19 September 2003
Plaintiff CounselSant Singh (Sant Singh & Partners)
Citation[1992] SGCA 22
Defendant CounselSeng Kwang Boon (Deputy Public Prosecutor)
CourtCourt of Appeal (Singapore)
Subject MatterNon-compliance with statutory provisions,Failure to rebut presumption,Witnesses,Drug addict as witness,Relevance of suggestions under Evidence Act to show motive and knowledge,Adverse inference,Balance of probabilities,Subjective test,Statement to police,Proof of evidence,Whether suggestions prejudicial,Charge and notice read but not explained to accused,Confessions,Whether admissible,Evidence prejudicial to accused,ss 18 & 21 Misuse of Drugs Act (Cap 185),Impeaching witnesses’ credibility,Statements,Principles,Confession to narcotics officer,Misuse of Drugs Act,ss 122(5), (6) & 123(1) Criminal Procedure Code (Cap 68),Failure to call witness,ss 8 & 14 Evidence Act (Cap 97, 1990 Ed),Reasons to be given for accepting evidence of such witness,s 24 Evidence Act (Cap 97, 1990 Ed),Whether there was inducement, threat or promise,Evidence,Suggestions by prosecution that accused guilty of criminal acts other than that with which he was charged,Drug trafficking charge,Trafficking in controlled drugs,Statutory offences,Danger of relying on evidence of such witness,Criminal Law,Voluntariness,Criminal Procedure and Sentencing

The appellant, Tan Boon Tat, was tried and convicted of the offence of having, between 3.30pm and 3.46pm on 10 May 1987, trafficked in not less than 1,120.81g of diamorphine by transporting the diamorphine from the car park at Lorong 7, Toa Payoh, to the entrance of the car park at Balestier Plaza in motor car EP3230P. Against that conviction he appealed.

The facts in brief were as follows.
On 10 May 1987 officers of the Central Narcotics Bureau (`CNB`) kept watch in the vicinity of a flat at 369A Balestier Road. At about 3.10pm they saw the appellant come out of the flat and drive off in motor car EP3230P. Four narcotics officers on two motor cycles and four other narcotics officers in two motor cars trailed the appellant to the car park behind Block 18, Lorong 7, Toa Payoh, but they lost sight of him thereafter. They kept watch.

At about 3.25pm See Leng Yeow (`See`), one of the narcotics officers keeping watch, saw the appellant walking at the ground floor of Block 18.
He was carrying a white plastic bag. See trailed the appellant and saw the appellant open the boot of motor car EP3230P, put the white plastic bag into the boot, close the boot and get into the car. See beckoned to SNO Lim Chei Yoo (`SNO Lim`), a senior narcotics officer in the party, who rode his motor cycle forward to meet See. See told SNO Lim what he had seen. The team of narcotics officers trailed the appellant back to Balestier Road where just as the appellant was driving into the car park at Balestier Plaza, they surrounded his car and arrested him.

The appellant was brought to the rear of the car and SNO Lim asked See to open the boot of the car.
See did so with the car key. When the boot was opened, See pointed to SNO Lim the white plastic bag which he said he had seen the appellant carrying. The white plastic bag was then in a blue plastic bag.

SNO Lim opened the white plastic bag and found that it contained two polythene bags, one white and one blue, which contained bags of white compressed powder.
He asked the appellant in the Hokkien dialect what the contents of the two plastic bags were. The appellant replied in Hokkien that someone had given them to him. When asked who the person was, the appellant did not reply but just grinned. The appellant was then escorted in motor car EP3230P to the office of the CNB.

At the CNB, photographs were taken of the contents of the boot as they were at the time.
The contents were then unloaded and photographs of the individual items were taken. The car was searched and from the glove compartment three international passports and two airline tickets for a journey from Singapore to Sydney were seized. One of the passports seized was that of the appellant. The two airline tickets and the other two passports were in the name of one Lim Chee Keong and one Ng Ling. Later that day SNO Lim, with other narcotics officers and the appellant, conducted raids at Block 18, #10-232, Lorong 7, Toa Payoh, and at #06-34, Block 28, Hoy Fatt Road.

At 12.05am on 11 May 1987 at the CNB, SNO Tan Boon Hock (`SNO Tan`), with the assistance of Wu Nan Yong, a certificated interpreter, recorded a statement from the appellant under s 122(6) of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cap 68) (`the CPC`).
The admissibility of this statement was challenged. After a trial-within-a-trial, the judges held that the statement was admissible. In the statement (`P30`), the appellant said: `Low Chak asked me to bring a plastic bag to Hoover Theatre and someone would come and collect the plastic bag. If the plastic would be collected, Low Chak would give me $10,000 tonight (10 May 1987).`

The white plastic packets were sent to the Department of Scientific Services for analysis.
They were found to contain a total of not less than 1,120.81g of diamorphine.

When the defence was called, the appellant testified that at the relevant time he was a contractor but as he did not have much contract work, he rented a flat at 369A Balestier Road and ran it as a gambling mess where he and his friends played mahjong.
Occasionally, he would lend money to those of his friends who lost money at gambling. For this purpose, he had a reserve of $2,000 to $3,000 cash. It was in this mess that he met Low Chak who frequented the place every night. Low Chak frequently lent the appellant money (interest free) when the appellant was short of cash to lend to gamblers.

The appellant confirmed that motor car EP3230P belonged to him.
He said that the key to the car was hung up in the mess and anyone patronizing the mess could make use of the car. He said that his friends, including Low Chak, used the car and put things in the boot of the car; he never asked them what these things were as he trusted them.

On the night of 8 May 1987, Low Chak came to the mess with a friend whom the appellant had not met before.
Low Chak handed to the appellant two international passports and a sum of $3,000 in cash and asked the appellant to buy two airline tickets from Singapore to Sydney for 10 May 1987 in the names stated in the passports. The appellant said he felt obliged to help Low Chak, and so on 9 May 1987 he purchased the two tickets.

When Low Chak came to the mess on the night of 9 May 1987, the appellant told Low Chak that he had purchased the tickets for $2,500 but had lost the balance of $500 in gambling.
Low Chak told the appellant not to worry about the $500 and said that his friend would collect the passports and tickets the following morning. Low Chak also told the appellant that he would call the appellant in the afternoon of the following day to ask the appellant to send the two passports, the airline tickets and the thing that he had put in his car to Low Chak`s friend. The appellant said that he did not know what it was that Low Chak had put in his car.

The appellant said that that night, as is his normal practice, he continued gambling until the following morning.
At 6am on 10 May 1987 he sent some of his gambling friends home to Yishun Ring Road and returned to the mess at about 7am. At about 9am he went to his home at Hoy Fatt Road and returned to the mess at about 1pm. Shortly thereafter, he received a telephone call from Low Chak who asked him to bring the two passports, airline tickets and the thing he had put in his car to a place in front of Hoover Theatre and to wait for his friend. Soon after the telephone call the appellant left for Toa Payoh. When he arrived at the flat at Toa Payoh, he found that there was no one in and he thereupon returned to Balestier Road. He denied that when he was at Toa Payoh he carried anything from the flat to his car.

As for the statement recorded by SNO Tan, the appellant said that what he told SNO Tan was that the $10,000 would be lent, not given, to him by Low Chak.
As for the plastic bag referred to in the statement, the appellant said he did not know which plastic bag it referred to or what the plastic bag contained. He said that the friend of Low Chak would collect the plastic bag.

The learned trial judges, in convicting the appellant, said in their grounds of judgment (which is reported in [1990] 2 MLJ 466 ) that the appellant had failed to rebut the presumptions that arose against him under ss 18 and 21 of the Misuse of Drugs Act (Cap 185) (`the Act`).
In their judgment they specifically stated that, even discounting the evidence of See and the evidence contained in the statement P30, the appellant had not succeeded in rebutting the said presumptions. The learned judges obviously took particular care to consider the evidence against the appellant without P30 and without the evidence of See because the admissibility of P30 was challenged and severe criticism had been made on the credibility of See. We will deal with these matters in considering the submissions made to us by counsel for the appellant.

Counsel for the appellant raised four grounds of appeal before us which he classified broadly as follows:

(i) accepting and relying on the evidence of See;

(ii) admitting prejudicial evidence;

(iii) the s 122(6) statement (P30):

(a) whether voluntary;

(b) whether statutory provision complied with; and

(iv) rejecting the defence.

We will deal with these submissions in the order in which they were raised.

The evidence of See Leng Yeow

It was submitted that the learned trial judges erred in accepting the evidence of See in that:

(a) they failed to scrutinize the material inconsistencies and improbabilities in See`s evidence; and

(b) they failed to treat See`s evidence with the degree of caution prescribed by law in view of the fact that See was, at all material times, a witness of an admittedly tainted and infamous character, in that he was himself an addict and was in all probability the corrupt public servant who had attempted to solicit a bribe of $2,000 from the appellant`s wife.

The inconsistencies and improbabilities in the evidence of See referred to by counsel related in the main to difficulties See would have had, from where he had positioned himself, in observing the plastic bag carried by the appellant and in being able to observe the part of the boot of the car where the appellant had placed the bag.
At the trial See was cross-examined at length on these matters. The learned trial judges having seen and heard See, and having heard submissions of counsel on the alleged inconsistencies and improbabilities of See`s evidence, accepted the evidence of See. We are not persuaded that in so doing the learned trial judges were wrong.

See, though an officer in the CNB, had himself been taking drugs since 1984.
In July 1987, he tendered his resignation from the CNB when his drug habit became known and he was thereafter admitted to the drug rehabilitation centre. In addition, there was evidence before the court that someone identifying himself as See had sometime in mid-1987 telephoned members of the appellant`s family, asked for $2,000, and in return promised to alter his testimony so as not...

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