SINGAPORE: A freelance delivery driver has been sentenced to death for trafficking heroin, which he claimed his "friend" had told him were contraband cigarettes.
In her grounds of decision published on Wednesday (Apr 10), Justice Hoo Sheau Peng rejected Mohamed Shalleh Abdul Latiff's defence and said the charges against him had been proven beyond reasonable doubt.
On Aug 11, 2016, Mohamed Shalleh was arrested after an operation conducted by officers from the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB).
While being observed by the CNB officers, Mohamed Shalleh met Malaysian Khairul Nizam Ramthan and received some items from him in exchange for S$7,000, and they went their separate ways. CNB officers then tailed both men before arresting them.
Mohamed Shalleh was stopped at Mei Ling Street, while Khairul Nizam was arrested at Woodlands Checkpoint.
After searching Mohamed Shalleh's car, officers found an orange plastic bag containing a box, which had two packets of crystalline substances.
They also found on the floorboard of the front passenger seat three bundles that were roughly palm-sized, round and irregularly shaped.
These bundles were found to contain about 54g of diamorphine, also known as heroin. Under the Misuse of Drugs Act, the death penalty is mandatory if the amount of diamorphine imported is more than 15g.
Mohamed Shalleh maintained in his statements that he thought he was only delivering contraband cigarettes on behalf of a friend named "Bai", to whom he owed a debt. The delivery was purportedly arranged by Bai, who would then deduct an amount from Mohamed Shalleh's debt.
According to his statements, this was second time that Mohamed Shalleh helped Bai deliver contraband cigarettes.
The driver said he "believed and trusted Bai" because he was a friend and that he had dealt in the business of contraband cigarettes.
RACKED UP DEBTS
He had met Bai in prison in 2008, but lost contact soon after. The next time he would meet Bai would be at the Kranji Turf Club between April or May 2014 and August 2014, when he placed bets with Bai, who worked there as a bookie.
Mohamed Shalleh racked up a debt of S$7,000 to S$8,000 to Bai and they lost contact. But in January 2016, the pair would meet at a mutual friend's wedding, when Bai demanded repayment.
The driver offered to repay the bookie via S$200 every week, and made a total of six instalments, before agreeing to help Bai with the delivery of "contraband cigarettes".
On the second delivery, when Mohamed Shalleh was caught, Bai had handed over S$7,000 to Mohamed Shalleh through a letter box.
He was instructed to pass the money to the Malaysian man and collect "two and a half cartons of contraband cigarettes" in exchange.
"The accused was aware that he was taking a risk by helping Bai on both occasions. The accused contemplated that the risk was a potential fine," Justice Hoo wrote in her grounds.
The judge said she found Mohamed Shalleh's defence to be unsatisfactory due to the inconsistencies in how their relationship was portrayed, as well as Mohamed Shalleh's insistence that he believed the bundles contained cigarettes.
"During cross-examination, the accused admitted that he did not know basic details such as Bai’s actual name or his address," said Justice Hoo, noting that Mohamed Shalleh's defence "provided weak support for the accused’s strong claim of trust in Bai".
"In other words, the accused’s interaction with Bai consisted of little more than what was borne out of circumstance, unlawful transactions and chance. It was doubtful that the accused trusted Bai to the degree he claimed he did."
Mohamed Shalleh's account of the items found in his vehicle was also contradicted by the findings of the CNB officers.
He claimed that the bundles "were never visible to him" as they were within the orange plastic bag, but the bundles were placed "quite separate" from the bag when found by CNB officers on the floorboard of Mohamed Shalleh's car. Justice Hoo noted that the police's findings were a "significant matter".
"As the three bundles were left exposed on the floorboard, the accused would have caught sight of their appearance. Their round and irregular shape should have aroused suspicion that they contained something else besides cartons of cigarettes," she wrote in her grounds.
When confronted with the possibility that he had seen the round shape of the three bundles, Mohamed Shalleh insisted he believed they contained cigarettes, as it was possible that the cigarettes were repacked into smaller packets.
"This claim was not tenable. The accused had been given specific instructions from Bai to expect receipt of two and a half cartons of cigarettes," said Justice Hoo.
"If the accused then caught sight of the three bundles, which he could not visually verify as being the expected two and a half cartons, I did not believe that the accused would still have proceeded to blindly accept receipt of the items while simultaneously relinquishing the $7,000 contained in the envelope to the Malaysian man."
"Having reviewed the evidence in totality, I found that the accused failed to show any unique circumstances justifying the high level of trust in Bai, and I was unpersuaded that he relied on the information allegedly given by Bai," concluded Justice Hoo.
Mohamed Shalleh has filed an appeal against the conviction and sentence.