SINGAPORE: A Malaysian man wanted for culpable homicide since 1986 managed to evade authorities for more than 30 years, as his name was misspelt on his work permit and in the police gazette issued against him.
Arumugam Veerasamy was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years' jail on Monday (Jul 15) after pleading guilty to a single charge of causing the death of a man with a hammer on Aug 28, 1986.
Arumugam, now 61, was traced in 2006 via advanced fingerprint technology, and arrested in September 2016 when he entered Singapore through Woodlands Checkpoint.
The grandfather did not know he was wanted for culpable homicide, and went back and forth between Johor Bahru - where he lived - and Singapore, said his lawyer Siraj Shaik Aziz.
The court heard that the dispute arose when Arumugam was doing odd jobs in Singapore in 1986.
He took odd jobs from the victim, 43-year-old Muthiah Kutha Lingam, a fellow Malaysian working as a construction worker in Singapore.
The victim supplied labour for construction projects and had engaged Arumugam to work odd jobs on several occasions, but paid him S$10 at the end of each work day instead of the agreed sum of S$45.
Mr Muthiah owed Arumugam about S$1,000 in unpaid salary, said Deputy Public Prosecutors Kelly Ho and Li Yihong.
DISPUTE OCCURRED OVER UNPAID SALARY, WHEN MEN WERE DRUNK
At about 1.30pm on Aug 28, 1986, the two men went to a hut in Lorong Kabong, a site in the west that no longer exists, where Mr Muthiah stayed.
While they were discussing Arumugam's complaints about his unpaid salary, another worker joined them at the hut and the three men drank about four bottles of beer.
As they were starting on their fifth bottle, the topic of unpaid salaries came up and Mr Muthiah became angry and slapped Arumugam on his face.
Seeing this, the third man left the hut as he did not wish to be involved in the argument.
Arumugam began fighting with the victim. They fell to the ground and started hitting each other, with Arumugam lying on top of the victim.
Arumugam noticed a hammer lying on the ground near some construction tools and picked it up. When the two men were on their feet, Arumugam swung the hammer at the victim and hit his head thrice.
Mr Muthiah fell to the ground and Arumugam swung the hammer down on his chest two times.
Arumugam then threw the hammer aside and left the hut, noticing that his employer was lying on the ground, groaning in pain.
HE WALKED BACK TO MALAYSIA ACROSS CAUSEWAY
Arumugam then took a taxi to Woodlands Checkpoint and walked across the causeway to Johor Bahru.
One of Mr Muthiah's workers found him lying motionless in the hut later that night and called the police.
Mr Muthiah, who had suffered skull fractures and chest injuries, was pronounced dead at the scene when paramedics arrived.
A police gazette was issued against Arumugam, based on the name on his work permit. However, he was not arrested for years as his name was misspelt.
He was traced only in 2006 with a new fingerprinting system, and was arrested 10 years later when he entered Singapore via Woodlands Checkpoint.
The prosecution on Monday asked for at least nine years' jail to be imposed, saying that the victim had died "a slow and painful death" after a dispute over S$1,000.
Arumugam had witnessed the mumbling and groaning of the victim, but "callously fled the scene instead of rendering assistance".
"It must be emphasised that even if the deceased was the one who resorted to violence first, there was no basis for the accused to escalate the violence as he did," said the prosecutors.
"Once the accused armed himself with the hammer, the fight was no longer an equal one."
The prosecution urged the court to give little weight to Arumugam's plea of guilt, saying he had been "on the run for the past three decades before the technological advancements in the police's investigative methods finally caught up with him".
"He cannot now belatedly claim to be genuinely remorseful for his crime," said the prosecutors.
They added that Arumugam did not surrender himself to the police for 30 years, nor take responsibility for his crime "in any way", even "brazenly crossing the border from Malaysia a few times over the years".
HE DIDN'T KNOW HE WAS WANTED FOR CULPABLE HOMICIDE: DEFENCE
Defence lawyers Siraj Shaik Aziz, Amogh Nallan Chakravarti and Sadhana Devi Daevnrd Rai asked for eight years' jail instead.
Mr Siraj Shaik said his client had returned to Singapore multiple times and was not aware he was wanted for culpable homicide.
"He ran to Malaysia straightaway, so it's just his good fortune that he was not caught," said Justice Chan Seng Onn.
The defence lawyer said Arumugam returned to Johor Bahru as that was where he lived.
"His instructions are that when he left the room, the deceased was still alive," said Mr Siraj Shaik.
"It was not in his contemplation that he was in for culpable homicide until he was arrested."
He said the misspelling of his name in his work permit was not something that occurred to Arumugam, as he was a Tamil-educated person and the phonetic difference "did not bother him".
"Upon arrest he was forthcoming in all his statements," said the lawyer, pointing out that his confessions formed the basis of the prosecution's findings.
When asked by the judge what Arumugam did during the years he was at large, Mr Siraj Shaik said Arumugam worked in Singapore.
A few years before his arrest, he entered the country to spend the evenings with his wife and daughter, before returning to Johor to take care of his grandchildren, said the lawyer.
He worked sporadically on both sides of the border and had no violent antecedents in Malaysia, only some drug-related convictions in the early 90s.
"He is 61 now. There is no evidence or indication of a proclivity towards violence," said the defence.
The judge gave a sentence that was in between what the defence and prosecution had asked for.
"I think in my view, after considering all the circumstances of this case, including the fact of your cooperation with the police and your plea of guilt, taking into account the mitigation which your counsel has submitted on your behalf, I will sentence you to 8.5 years' imprisonment," said Justice Chan Seng Onn.
"Because you are 61, you are lucky not to have any caning imposed on you. I hope you will reflect on what you have done, and after you serve prison you can then go back to your family."