Accused drug traffickers acquitted as auxiliary police officers cannot be found for trial

SINGAPORE - Two Malaysians facing the death penalty for drug trafficking, were acquitted on Thursday (Feb 28), after the High Court heard that several auxiliary police officers could not be found to testify in their trial.

Prosecutors sought a discharge not amounting to an acquittal for Manogaran Palanisamy, 34, and Liew Choon Kian, 39, who have been in custody since October 2016. This would have meant the charges are temporarily dropped and can be revived later.

But Justice Aedit Abdullah granted a discharge amounting to an acquittal, saying he had doubts that progress could be made in tracking down the witnesses.

"While the suspected offence occurred just in 2016, the very fact that there appears to be difficulties in tracking down the appropriate witnesses, even with what one would have expected to be available in terms of records of shifts and deployment, makes me doubt that it is likely that a prosecution can be mounted in the foreseeable future," said the judge.

Details of efforts taken to locate the witnesses were not disclosed.

In December last year, the Court of Appeal ruled that it was incumbent on the prosecution to establish the chain of custody of drug exhibits.

In other words, the prosecution has to account for the movement of the drug exhibits from the point of seizure to the point that it is analysed by the Health Sciences Authority.

In the current case, Manogaran, who was entering Singapore through the Tuas checkpoint on his motorcycle, was accused of being in possession of 339.4g of methamphetamine when he was nabbed on Oct 22, 2016.

Liew, who was later arrested elsewhere, was accused of engaging in a conspiracy with Manogaran to traffic the drugs.

Their trial was scheduled to start on Feb 7, but did not proceed. The prosecution later applied for the pair to be given discharges not amounting to acquittals.

On Thursday, the court was told that several auxiliary police officers involved in escort and keeping watch could not be identified and located.

The prosecution maintained that there is a clear intention to prosecute if the witnesses can be located, though it acknowledged that it could not give a definite time frame.

However, lawyers for Liew, led by Mr Wong Seow Pin, and for Manogaran, led by Mr P O Ram, argued for discharges amounting to acquittals.