Australia drug bust: Jailed Singaporean fails in appeal bid

Ecstasy supplier jailed for 161/2 years loses bid for more time to appeal

A Singaporean jailed over one of Australia's biggest drug busts has lost his bid for more time to appeal against his sentence.

Koh Keng Chuan, 33, had been sentenced to 161/2 years' jail by the Sydney District Court back in June 2011, after pleading guilty to knowingly taking part in supplying 2,272kg of liquid Ecstasy.

The haul could have been processed into Ecstasy powder with a conservative street value of about A$500 million (S$570 million at current values), which at the time was one of the largest such seizures in Australia.

Koh had recently tried to set in motion an appeal.

The New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal last Friday turned down his application for an extension of time to seek permission to appeal, finding that his grounds of appeal "lack merit".

It noted that the former car salesman and debt collector had made the application more than two years after being sentenced.

This was a delay borne of a "desire to take advantage" of a favourable decision concerning sentencing, that was recently handed down by Australia's High Court.

The New South Wales court said no error on Koh's sentence had been made, adding: "On his own account, the sentence imposed appears to have been less than he expected."

Koh could have been sentenced to life imprisonment.

His role in the operation included putting his name to the rental of the space for storing the drugs, which were in the form of a chemical called piperonyl methyl ketone - the second-last step in the Ecstasy manufacturing process - and hiring a van for a delivery.

Then 27, he and a 50-year-old accomplice were nabbed on Dec 18, 2006, after the van broke down on a highway in the Australian state of Victoria. This attracted attention from police, who found 68 containers of liquid Ecstasy in it. A search of the storage unit in Sydney later turned up 1,900 litres of the chemical.

Both men were sentenced to jail terms in Victoria. They were brought back to New South Wales in 2009.

The appeals court's written judgment states that Koh, who left school at the age of 12 and worked in his grandparents' coffee shop, has not seen his father and two brothers, who live in Singapore, since his arrest. His wife - with whom he moved to Malaysia from Singapore in 2005 - was said to have filed for divorce in 2009.

He had also been exposed to gang-related activity in Singapore and has a criminal record here.

Koh's accomplice, a Chinese national who migrated to Australia in 1989, has applied for permission to appeal against a 191/2 year term for a similar offence.

pohian@sph.com.sg