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Man sentenced to death via Zoom for drug trafficking acquitted after appeal with new evidence

Man sentenced to death via Zoom for drug trafficking acquitted after appeal with new evidence

A general view of the Supreme Court in Singapore on Sep 23, 2022. (File photo: CNA/Try Sutrisno Foo)

SINGAPORE: A man who was sentenced to death via Zoom for trafficking diamorphine or pure heroin has been acquitted of the charge, after the Court of Appeal considered new evidence that showed the prosecution did not prove its case.

In a judgment released on Monday (Oct 31), the court acquitted Malaysian Punithan Genasan of one count of trafficking in 28.5g of diamorphine at West Coast McDonald's car park in October 2011 by introducing two couriers to each other.

Mr Punithan had been sentenced to death in May 2020, the first to be given the penalty during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The couriers, Malaysian V Shanmugam Veloo and Singaporean Mohd Suief Ismail, had been nabbed by Central Narcotics Bureau officers on Oct 28, 2011, after Suief got into Shanmugam's car. Granular substances containing at least 28.5g of diamorphine were later found among their possessions.

Mr Punithan was implicated during investigations into the two men's cases, with Shanmugam pointing to Mr Punithan as the mastermind who coordinated the drug transaction.

It was not disputed that the transaction in relation to the two couriers took place. Shanmugam was sentenced to life imprisonment and 15 strokes of the cane, while Suief was sentenced to death.

However, the central question in the appeal was whether there was a meeting between the duo and Mr Punithan on Oct 12, 2011, because that was the link alleged between Mr Punithan and the drug transaction that took place later on Oct 28, 2011.

The prosecution had to prove beyond reasonable doubt that this meeting to introduce the couriers to each other did take place, in order to prove Mr Punithan's charge, said the court.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Justices Andrew Phang and Tay Yong Kwang said there were discrepancies in the evidence about the date and time of day about this supposed meeting at trial. 

Mr Punithan was represented by a team of lawyers from K&L Gates Straits Law, led by Senior Counsel Narayanan Sreenivasan. His lawyers introduced fresh evidence including investigation statements from Shanmugam and Suief, the Singtel call trace report for Suief's phone and the ICA travel movement records for Shanmugam, as well as his foster mother and foster daughter.

According to Suief's statement in late October 2011, the meeting took place at about "5 plus in the evening". Shanmugam, however, claimed on Oct 31, 2011 that the meeting took place between 1pm and 3pm.

In both their statements and oral testimony, neither of the men alluded to the possibility that the meeting could have been in the morning, said Justice Tay, who delivered the verdict on behalf of the three-judge panel.

However, according to the ICA travel movement records, the only time the meeting could have taken place was in the early part of the morning of Oct 12, 2011, said the judge.

"Accordingly, there remained a lingering reasonable doubt as to the time of the alleged introductory meeting and therefore a reasonable doubt about whether the couriers were indeed testifying about the meeting of 12 October 2011," said Judge Tay.

He added that the meeting was a "pivotal element" in the charge against Mr Punithan.

Citing the "unique circumstances of this case", he said the charge was not proven beyond reasonable doubt as there was a reasonable doubt whether the meeting took place in the morning of Oct 12, 2011.

Justice Tay stressed that decision in this appeal was focused on the meeting and had no effect whatsoever on the conviction and appeals of the couriers, who were found to be in possession of the drugs and in the process of distributing them.

Source: CNA/ll(ta)
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