SINGAPORE - The man known to be the fastest wheelchair sprinter in Singapore was on Friday (May 20) found guilty of trafficking methamphetamine and jailed the minimum five years after a five-day trial.
Muhammad Firdaus Nordin, 28, a former Asean Para Games gold medalist, who is listed in the Singapore Book of Records, also pleaded guilty to a charge of taking the same drug on Jan 31 in 2015, saying it was to help him get in shape in time for the 8th Asean Para Games, held in Singapore in December 2015.
He was jailed for 10 months on the drug consumption charge, but his two jail terms will run concurrently.
The five-year prison sentence will bring to a halt the disabled athlete's remarkable sporting achievements.
When he was 13, Firdaus, who was born with spina bifida, raced in the National Junior Disabled Games in Australia in 2001, clinching one gold and two silver medals, and also breaking a Games record.
Four years later in 2005, he won two golds, one of which was for the men's 100m race, and one silver medal at the third Asean Para Games in Manila in 2005. He became famous overnight by claiming the top spot in the world for that century sprint event. The then underdog also smashed the Games record for the 100m and 200m events.
Just a year later in 2006, he set a new Games record for the 200m event at the prestigious IPC Athletics World Championships in the Netherlands, winning a silver medal and earning the Republic its first entry into the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing, although Firdaus later had to pull out due to injury.
In 2010, he won gold medals in the 100m, 200m and 400m in the International German Open Championships for Track and Field.
In December 2015, during the Asean Para Games held in Singapore, Firdaus also competed in the 100m, 200m and 400m events.
But in the early hours of Feb 2, 2015, policemen stopped a car driven by Firdaus' cousin Hamza Jubir near Block 510 Bedok North Street 3. There had been a fight in the area, and the police had information that some suspects had fled in a car.
Firdaus was in the back seat of the car, while Hamza's girlfriend was in the front passenger seat.
A policeman found three packets of crystalline substance weighing 4.03g tucked between Firdaus' jeans and boxer shorts in the area between his groin and his right thigh.
Firdaus said the packets belonged to him. He was arrested at about 5am and taken to the Bedok Police Division Headquarters.
His urine later tested positive for methamphetamine, while the packets were found to contain 2.65g of the same drug.
At Bedok Police Division Headquarters, Firdaus again told a Central Narcotics Bureau officer the drugs were his and further said they were for sale.
He also repeated this in three statements recorded on the same day of his arrest and the next day.
But during his trial, from April 4 to 8, Firdaus claimed the drugs were found on the car's back passenger seat. During a short chase of the car by the police, Firdaus said, Hamza's girlfriend had taken a pouch containing the drugs from the glove compartment, passed it to Firdaus and told him to put it on the rear passenger seat.
Firdaus' admissions of guilt to the authorities, meanwhile, had been made because of threats from Hamza, Firdaus claimed.
Hamza and his girlfriend took the stand to deny Firdaus' allegations.
However, Firdaus agreed during the trial with his admission made in his statements to the police that he took methamphetamine to get in shape for the Asean Para Games at the end of that year.
The case was prosecuted by Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Yanying before District Judge Lee Poh Choo.
In his mitigation, defence lawyer Peter Fernando said: "Firdaus has clearly learnt a very serious lesson and there is absolutely no reason for him to reoffend. He is a young man who was unfortunately born with serious medical conditions.
"He has by sheer determination proven to be a man capable of achieving great heights in wheelchair racing. He pleads to be shown leniency in view of his ill-health."
In sentencing him to five years' jail and five strokes of the cane, Judge Lee noted Firdaus' age, medical conditions and achievements.
She told Firdaus the law mandates a minimum five strokes of the cane for his trafficking charge and that it is for the prison service to certify him to be unfit for caning.
Firdaus showed little expression as his sentence was passed, but relatives, including his mother and an aunt, wept in court. The judge allowed Firdaus' mother and aunt to speak with him for 10 minutes before he was led away in his wheelchair and handcuffed with his hands in front of him.
The penalty for trafficking methamphetamine, a Class A controlled drug, is between five and 20 years' jail, with between five and 15 strokes of the cane. The penalty for consuming the drug is jail of up to 10 years and/or a $20,000 fine.