Singaporean faces retrial in Australia

Jury fails to reach unanimous verdict in trial of ex-unionist accused of importing drugs

An Australian court has ordered a retrial for a Singaporean accused of importing the drug Ice, worth up to A$6 million (S$6.1 million), after the jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict.

The hung jury last month came after a five-day trial of V. Jayakody, 75, who argued that he was unaware of the contents in a suitcase that he carried from Shanghai to Perth.

Once a prominent unionist, Jayakody served as executive secretary of the Singapore Port Workers Union for 10 years from 1972. He was detained at Perth airport in July last year after Australian Customs officers found about 1.753kg of the drug hidden at the base of his large black suitcase. It also contained clothing and handbags.

The drug methylamphetamine - also known as Ice - was high-grade, with its purity being 80 per cent .

Jayakody claimed he got the suitcase in Shanghai, where he had gone to sign documents for a business deal involving someone named Rolland Edward. He claimed he agreed to travel to Perth - paid for by Mr Edward - to sign and collect other documents for the deal and hand over the suitcase.

The trip was rooted in a business deal made six months earlier with Mr Edward, supposedly a banker from Burkina Faso, who agreed to invest US$7 million (S$9 million) in his Singapore-based company.

According to a report in Perth newspaper The West Australian, his lawyer, Mr John Prior, told the jury that Jayakody had been set up by online scammers and baited by fraudsters. Mr Prior added that his client was a trustworthy man with a clean record. But the prosecution countered that the articulate, well-travelled Jayakody, who was a company director, should have been aware of the risk of an illicit substance being contained in the suitcase.

The 12-member jury, after being given legal directions by Justice Bruno Fiannaca at the end of the trial, retired to deliberate but could not come to a unanimous decision, which was needed for a conviction .

So, the Supreme Court of West Australia in Perth ordered a retrial and five days have been set aside next February for the case to be heard again.

Jayakody was then ordered to be remanded pending the trial with the option of a possible bail application.

During his stint as a unionist, Jayakody, a law graduate, was credited with putting the port workers' union on a proper footing. In a history book on the union, he was lauded for his tact, initiative and diplomacy in being able to unify the members.

Jayakody had been seconded from the Ministry of Education to NTUC and asked to reorganise the port workers' union in 1972, according to the book The Port Worker And His Union: The First 40 Years Of Singapore Port Workers Union.

He also served as a member of the advisory council of the high-profile Skills Development Fund in 1979, alongside then NTUC stalwart and now disgraced Phey Yew Kok, among other union heavyweights.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2015, with the headline 'Singaporean faces retrial in Australia'. Print Edition | Subscribe