Cleaner tells of drug syndicate with 600 runners

Malaysian spared gallows and jailed for life after court deemed him merely a courier

A cleaner jailed for life after he tried to smuggle drugs into Singapore told the court that he worked for a Malaysian syndicate with 600 runners operating here.

Yogaras Poongavanam, 26, was spared the gallows after the court deemed him merely a courier. He was also sentenced to 15 strokes of the cane for bringing in diamorphine three years ago.

Yogaras was found with drugs more than twice the 15g threshold for the death penalty.

At the start of the trial, he said he wanted to plead guilty, but was disallowed as the court does not allow defendants to admit a charge carrying the death penalty.

In judgment grounds released on Tuesday, Justice Tay Yong Kwang said the accused's involvement was "restricted to transporting and delivering the drugs".

In judgment grounds released on Tuesday, Justice Tay Yong Kwang said the accused's involvement was "restricted to transporting and delivering the drugs". The Malaysian national had attempted to bring in the drugs through Woodlands Checkpoint on April 17, 2012, by packing them into the fender of his motorcycle.

The Malaysian had attempted to bring in the drugs through Woodlands Checkpoint on April 17, 2012, by packing them into the fender of his motorcycle.

But Central Narcotics Bureau officers noticed the screws in the fender were not identical, and when they opened the fender, they found two bundles with more than 36g of diamorphine. An arrest was made.

Yogaras, who lived in Johor Baru and was working as a cleaner at the Esplanade, described a syndicate of runners who hailed from remote Malaysian villages and were rostered to deliver drugs on a daily basis.

He joined the group in March 2012, when he was taken to a "very nice" place in Johor with "many rooms and a lot of money". He was plied with drinks and told he would have enough money to buy many cars and motorcycles.

Yogaras said that he thought being a drug runner would allow him to lead a comfortable life. He wanted to be able to support his mother and pay for her medical expenses.

He was told he had to perform three drug deliveries before he could become a permanent daily runner, but was arrested on his third delivery to Singapore.

The judge added that Yogaras had been "relatively young" - just 22 - when he committed the offence, and had later cooperated fully with the authorities, even appearing as a prosecution witness at other trials.


What it should have been (published on Aug 4, 2015)

Last Thursday's report, "Cleaner tells of drug syndicate with 600 runners", stated that a Malaysian offender was spared the gallows and jailed for life after the court deemed him merely a courier. The Ministry of Home Affairs has clarified that to be spared the death penalty, the courier must also have cooperated with the Central Narcotics Bureau in a substantive way, or have a mental disability which substantially impairs his appreciation of the gravity of the act.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2015, with the headline 'Cleaner tells of drug syndicate with 600 runners'. Print Edition | Subscribe