Elderly man may face death for drug offence

An elderly bookmaker could face the death penalty after he was convicted in the High Court yesterday of trafficking around 95g of heroin into Singapore.

The lawyer defending Chum Tat Suan intends to make further arguments that his client qualifies as a courier under new laws which make the death penalty discretionary instead of mandatory for trafficking in more than 15g of the drug.

However, the prosecution's stand is that while the new law applies, the 65-year-old was not a drug courier and did not satisfy the legal requirements to be spared the gallows.

Laws came into effect this year giving judges the discretion, under two scenarios, not to impose the death penalty for capital drug trafficking cases.

Life sentences can be imposed on those certified by the prosecution to have helped the Central Narcotics Bureau substantially and those who have a mental illness making them less responsible for their actions.

However, the changes apply only to those considered to be couriers - that is, their roles were restricted to transporting, sending or delivering drugs.

In the current case, arguments on whether Chum qualifies as a courier will be heard at a later date.

Chum, a self-described bookie and amulet seller, was the only passenger in a taxi crossing the Causeway into Singapore at 2.10am on Jan 15, 2010.

During a routine check, bundles of heroin and methamphetamine were found in a hidden compartment at the base of a black bag in the boot of the taxi.

Law enforcement officers testified that Chum told them he was going to deliver the heroin in Geylang and be paid $10,000.

When he took the stand, Chum said the bag did not belong to him and he did not know it contained drugs. He said he carried a blue cloth bag when he went gambling with friends in Johor Baru but took the wrong bag when he left. Justice Choo Han Teck was not convinced Chum could have mistaken a blue cloth bag for a black PVC bag.

He noted Chum admitted some of the items in the black bag were his and said the idea that whoever planted the drugs in the black bag also transferred his belongings was "absurd".

selinal@sph.com.sg