Indonesia's Supreme Court has turned down an appeal against the acquittal of boat captain Shoo Chiau Huat in connection with illegal fishing charges, but the Singaporean remains in detention on Tanjung Pinang Island - more than 16 months since he was first arrested in April last year for the alleged offences.
Supreme Court spokesman Suhadi told The Straits Timesyesterday that judges from the apex court had ruled against the prosecution's appeal on April 20 this year and notified the local courts of its decision some time thereafter.
"In a criminal case, when one is acquitted, he must be released," said Mr Suhadi who, like some Indonesians, goes by only one name.
However, ST has learnt that Shoo, 50, still needs to wait for the High Court in Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau province, to rule on an objection filed by prosecutors against a lower court's dismissal of a separate charge of sailing in Indonesian waters without a permit.
"We have to wait for the ruling by the Pekanbaru High Court on the prosecutors' objection," said Mr Shoo's defence lawyer Herman Black, when asked why his client was not allowed to return home following the Supreme Court's decision.
Shoo was arrested for illegal fishing on April 16 last year in Tanjung Berakit waters, off Bintan island. He was subsequently acquitted of illegal fishing in July last year but remained in detention over immigration offences.
In January this year, he pleaded guilty to entering Indonesia illegally and paid a 50 million rupiah (S$5,100) fine in March in the hope of being released.
But on April 4, he was charged for the third time - this time with sailing in Indonesia's waters without a permit under the country's shipping laws.
The illegal sailing charge was dismissed by a court on May 3, with the judge saying that it was contradictory to Indonesian laws to proceed against an offender on two different provisions for the same act.
At the time, immigration officials said the deportation process for Shoo would begin only after a higher court rules on the prosecution's appeal against the illegal fishing charge.
But despite the latest Supreme Court ruling, Shoo is still under "house arrest" in Tanjung Pinang.
As he is not an Indonesian citizen, the authorities have provided him with a place to stay and he is free to move around the island.
But he remains under guard and cannot leave the country until the Pekanbaru High Court acts.
Tanjung Pinang court officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Shoo's wife Jasmine has said she is able to speak to him sometimes but feels helpless over his fate.
"No one can help us. I don't know who to turn to anymore," she said.
"He doesn't have to attend court hearings now but he still cannot come back home, and we don't know how long he will remain there. We have to wait - but until when?"
Housewife Moreen Tan, 58, a friend of the boat captain for more than 10 years, also expressed frustration with developments.
"Whether or not he was in the wrong, the case should have been resolved more quickly. It's been almost 11/2 years," she told ST yesterday.
"I hope that it comes to a conclusion soon," she said.