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Malaysian bus driver walks free after Apex Court upholds his acquittal for trafficking heroin in 2014

SINGAPORE: A Malaysian bus driver accused of trafficking heroin to a woman outside a supermarket in 2014 had his acquittal of the capital charge upheld by the Court of Appeal on Thursday (Oct 14).

The prosecution had appealed against the High Court's decision in May 2021 to acquit Mangalagiri Dhruva Kumar of trafficking at least 22.73g of diamorphine or heroin, but a three-judge panel comprising the Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Justices Judith Prakash and Chao Hick Tin dismissed the appeal on Thursday afternoon.

Mr Mangalagiri's lawyer Ramesh Tiwary told CNA that his client should be released later on Thursday.

Speaking through Mr Tiwary, Mr Mangalagiri said he is "very thankful to God and the system in Singapore".


Mr Mangalagiri was accused of handing a bag containing heroin to a woman named Shanti Krishnan on May 16, 2014, outside Sheng Siong Supermarket at Woodlands Centre Road.

Shanti then handed the drugs to a Zainudin Mohamed. Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officers arrested Shanti and Zainudin later that same day.

They were tried and Shanti was sentenced to life imprisonment for trafficking at least 22.73g of heroin, while Zainudin was convicted in 2016 of possessing the heroin for the purposes of trafficking.

He was sentenced to death and executed after his appeal was dismissed in 2018.

During investigations, Shanti said she collected the heroin from the driver of a green and white bus, and identified Mr Mangalagiri as the driver after being shown 17 photographs. He was arrested at Woodlands Checkpoint in September 2015.

The prosecution's case was that Mr Mangalagiri trafficked heroin to Shanti on four occasions, of which May 16, 2014 was the last.

Mr Mangalagiri maintained that he did not know Shanti and had not passed her heroin on any occasion.

The trial judge, Justice Valerie Thean, acquitted Mr Mangalagiri after finding that his guilt had not been proven beyond reasonable doubt.

The only evidence that he supplied the drugs to Shanti was Shanti's testimony, and she was unable to recall the various events of the purported transactions well.

Her testimony in court also deviated from her given statements and the surrounding circumstances do not provide independent corroboration of her evidence, Justice Thean found in her May 2021 judgment.

In their appeal against the acquittal on Thursday, the prosecution maintained that Shanti had provided a detailed account of what happened on May 16, 2014, and that Mr Mangalagiri had in contrast "failed to provide a coherent account" of the events of that day.

The prosecutors added that he had also failed to show why Shanti would falsely incriminate him.

Mr Mangalagiri's team of lawyers, comprising Mr Tiwary, Mr Satwant Singh and Mr Mark Yeo, reiterated that the evidence was insufficient to prove that Mr Mangalagiri did deliver heroin to Shanti.

They argued that Shanti was a witness likely to accuse others even when there is no truth in such an accusation.

They pointed to Justice Thean's findings, in which she wrote that Shanti's testimony was not compelling on its own.

"The prosecution submits that she has no reason to lie: In my judgment, in transactions such as the present where the stakes are high and the incentives opaque, such an assumption may not be made," Justice Thean wrote.

In Mr Tiwary's submissions, he wrote: "If the prosecution has not discharged the burden on it, they cannot look to bolster the inadequacies in their case by submitting that the defence case is also weak."

Source: CNA/ll(ac)


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