Apex court overturns acquittal

The Court of Appeal yesterday overturned the acquittal of a 29-year-old Nigerian man for trafficking in nearly 2kg of methamphetamine.
The Court of Appeal yesterday overturned the acquittal of a 29-year-old Nigerian man for trafficking in nearly 2kg of methamphetamine.PHOTO: ST GRAPHICS

Nigerian lied many times to anti-narcotics officers about 2kg of Ice in suitcase

THE Court of Appeal yesterday overturned the acquittal of a 29-year-old Nigerian man for trafficking in nearly 2kg of methamphetamine, commonly known as Ice.

The three-judge court found that Ilechukwu Uchechuku Chukwudi had lied numerous times in his statements to anti-narcotics officers to distance himself from the drugs found in the suitcase he had brought into Singapore.

The court rejected Ilechukwu's explanations for his deliberate lies, saying they were "no more than convenient excuses".

The case was sent back to the lower court for the trial judge to make a finding on whether his role was limited to that of a courier. This would affect whether he is sentenced to death or life imprisonment.

Ilechukwu, who arrived in Singapore on Nov 13, 2011, claimed he had come here to buy laptops to sell back home. He said he had brought a laptop bag to the airport in Lagos but was handed a black suitcase by an acquaintance who asked him to pass it to a Singaporean contact.

In Singapore, he paid for one night's stay at a Chinatown budget hotel. Shortly after getting a call telling him to meet a woman, he took a taxi to Clarke Quay and passed the suitcase to Singaporean Hamidah Awang, 49.

After they parted ways, Hamidah was arrested at the Woodlands checkpoint as she was driving out of Singapore with the suitcase. Ilechukwu was arrested in his hotel room the next day.

The pair were tried together in the High Court for drug trafficking. Last November, Hamidah was convicted, while Ilechukwu was acquitted. She has yet to be sentenced as well.

Despite the obvious lies in Ilechukwu's statements, the trial judge accepted he had come to Singapore on business and did not know that the suitcase contained drugs.

The prosecution appealed, arguing that the trial judge was wrong to have disregarded his lies and to have accepted that he was a genuine businessman.

Among other things, Ilechukwu had lied after his arrest that he brought only his laptop bag to Singapore, that he did not go to Clarke Quay, that he did not give anything to anybody and that he had never seen Hamidah.

But airport surveillance footage showed him collecting the suitcase. Hamidah also testified he had passed it to her.

In court, Ilechukwu said he had lied because he did not know the full facts of what had happened, so he decided that the safest thing to do was to deny anything that was not in his possession.

selinal@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2015, with the headline 'Apex court overturns acquittal'. Print Edition | Subscribe