2 death-row traffickers get life term instead

Five years on death row ended yesterday for convicted Malaysian drug traffickers Cheong Chun Yin and Pang Siew Fum after a High Court re-sentenced them to life in prison.

Cheong, now 31, arrived at Changi Airport from Myanmar on June 16, 2008, with a black trolley bag which he handed to Pang, 57, before the two parted ways.

They were arrested separately later that day, and the bag was found to contain 2,726g of heroin.

They were convicted of drug trafficking after a joint High Court trial in 2010 and sentenced to death - the mandatory penalty at the time for trafficking more than 15g of the drug.

Appeals against their sentences were dismissed at the time.

However amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act, which came into effect on Jan 1, 2013, gave the court the discretion to jail traffickers facing the death penalty, if it could be shown that the offender acted as a courier and had cooperated with the authorities to disrupt drug-trafficking activities.

In September 2013, the Attorney- General's Chambers said the Public Prosecutor had "decided to certify to a court that Cheong has substantively assisted the CNB in disrupting drug-trafficking activities outside Singapore", basing the decision on "new information received".

Cheong was issued with a certificate of cooperation, but left waiting to find out if the evidence was sufficient to prove he was just a courier.

Pang did not get a similar certificate, but a psychiatric evaluation resulted in a clarification from an Institute of Mental Health consultant that she had a "major depressive disorder" at the time of the offence, amounting to a "substantial impairment of her mental responsibilities".

These were taken into consideration in the duo's re-sentencing, said Pang's defence counsel Irving Choh, and both were finally given a reprieve yesterday - some seven years after first stepping into court.

Cheong was also given 15 strokes of the cane, a punishment Pang evaded as a woman.

Relatives of both wept in court after hearing the news.

"I've waited so many years for today, I'm so happy," said Mr Cheong Kah Pin, a 59-year-old single father who sold his house to fund his son's legal costs. "I hope the Singapore Government will let him come home to me earlier."

Cheong's is the fourth reported case in which a drug courier issued a certificate of cooperation has been spared the gallows. His lawyer Louis Joseph said he expected similar sentencing to come.

"The kingpins behind drug operations don't dare to come to Singapore... so a vast majority of those who are caught here are pure mules who do it either out of stupidity or desperation," said Mr Joseph. "They will spill the beans, and based on that... I expect very few drug traffickers will face the death penalty."


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