Drug courier spared the death penalty

But his accomplice will hang in first ruling since laws amended

TWO friends were convicted of heroin trafficking, but following recent changes to drug laws, one man will hang while the other will be jailed for life.

Before he was sentenced yesterday, Abdul Haleem Abdul Karim, 30, asked to be hanged if his friend, Muhammad Ridzuan Md Ali, 28, was sent to the gallows.

Choking with emotion, he told Justice Tay Yong Kwang: "If you are sparing my life and not sparing his life, I'd rather go down with him."

But the judge replied: "The court does not have complete discretion to do whatever you want me do."

Abdul Haleem then pointed out that he and his friend faced the same charges.

The judge told him: "You have certification from the Attorney-General's Chambers, he does not."

The judge was referring to a certificate from the prosecution stating that the accused had substantively assisted in disrupting drug trafficking activities.

Abdul Haleem was the first to receive such a certificate after changes to the law last year gave judges the discretion to not impose the death penalty on drug couriers. (See boxed story)

Abdul Haleem did not react when he was sentenced to life imprisonment and 24 strokes of the cane.

Muhammad Ridzuan, after being sentenced to hang, smiled, waved and gave the thumbs-up sign to his sobbing family and friends in the gallery.

The two were arrested on May 6, 2010.

Anti-narcotics officers lying in wait in the Whampoa area had chased Abdul Haleem after he got out of a taxi, to Muhammad Ridzuan's flat.

Abdul Haleem's bag contained eight bundles of heroin. Officers also found 21 plastic packets of the drug in the flat.

The pair were jointly tried on two charges, one of which carried the death penalty.

It involved trafficking in not less than 72.5g of heroin, from seven of the eight bundles in Abdul Haleem's bag.

Under the law, anyone convicted of trafficking in more than 15g of heroin faces the death penalty.

Muhammad Ridzuan fought against the capital charge, claiming he did not know the amount of drugs he was receiving from the supplier would be so much. He was found guilty yesterday.

Abdul Haleem admitted to both charges at the start of the trial in February.

His lawyer Ramesh Tiwary told the court that his client cooperated with investigators and that he played a smaller role than Muhammad Ridzuan, who was the one in contact with the supplier.

selinal@sph.com.sg