SINGAPORE: A Nigerian man who was originally sentenced to death for importing about 2kg of drugs was spared the gallows upon appeal because he was found not to know of the presence of the drugs, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin said in Parliament on Monday (Jul 8).
He was responding to a question from Member of Parliament for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Christopher de Souza.
Mr de Souza asked whether there was a need to review the provisions of the Misuse of Drugs Act in light of the Court of Appeal's judgement in the case. He also asked how the presumptions in the Act will continue to function as "key legal tools to battle trafficking within, into or through Singapore".
Adili Chibuike Ejike, who was arrested at Changi Airport in November 2011 with methamphetamine - commonly known as Ice - concealed in the inner lining of his suitcase was acquitted in May after the Court of Appeal heard his case in the High Court.
Mr Ejike had said that an acquaintance in Nigeria had told him to pass the suitcase to an unknown person in Singapore, and that he was given about US$5,000 (S$6,800) for his travel expenses.
He claimed that he did not know what the suitcase contained, why he had to deliver it, and he did not ask those questions of his acquaintance.
According to court documents, Mr Ejike had been jobless in Nigeria after his business failed. He approached an acquaintance in Nigeria for help and that person agreed to give Mr Ejike a sum of money if he delivered a suitcase to an unspecified person in Singapore.
Mr Amrin explained that a person will be guilty of importing under Misuse of Drugs Act if he is in possession of the drugs, knew of their presence and their nature and brought the drugs into Singapore without prior authorisation. Trafficking more than 250g of Ice into Singapore comes with a possible death penalty.
"In practice, it can be difficult to prove a person’s state of mind," Mr Amrin said.
To address this, the Act builds in presumptions and when these presumptions apply, a person charged with importing prohibited drugs can be presumed to know of their presence, as well as their nature, he said.
It is then for the accused to give sufficient evidence to rebut the presumptions.
“The one key issue was whether Adili could rebut the presumption that he knew the nature of the drugs in his suitcase,” he said, adding that the Court of Appeal noted that the prosecution conceded that Mr Ejike did not actually know of the presence of the drugs.
“Members will appreciate that once the prosecution accepts that the accused did not know of the presence of the drugs, then the presumption cannot apply.
“This legal reasoning is neither novel nor new, and is not in any way different from the Government’s understanding of the law,” he said.
As a legal concept, wilful blindness means that a person will be treated as having knowledge of a fact, if it can be shown that he suspected something was amiss, yet, did not verify his suspicion, out of fear of legal consequences and he had reasonable means of discovering the truth, Mr Amrin said.
According to a written judgment, the court found that Adili had not been wilfully blind to the existence of the drugs in his suitcase. This was because it would not have been possible for Adili to have discovered the drug bundles, which were found only after the inner lining of the suitcase was cut open.
He also could not have found out about the drugs by asking the people who had handed him the suitcase in Nigeria, since they were intent on keeping the truth from him, and would not have told him about the hidden drug bundles even if he had asked, said the judges.
"There are other observations made by the Court of Appeal on wilful blindness. We are studying those observations carefully, and will set out the Government’s views in due course and whether any legislative amendments are necessary," Mr Amrin added.
Mr de Souza then asked if arising out of this decision, a suspect can claim the drugs being well-concealed as a defence.
To this, Mr Amrin said that the fact that the drugs are well-concealed alone will not lead to such a decision, and the case is assessed holistically.
"The courts, in the past, have carefully scrutinised such claims," Mr Amrin said.