Apex court orders retrial for two men on death row for alleged drug trafficking

The apex court said the charges against the men have also been amended.
The apex court said the charges against the men have also been amended.ST PHOTO: JASMINE CHOONG

SINGAPORE - The Court of Appeal has ordered a retrial for two men currently on death row for alleged drug trafficking.

In written grounds issued on Thursday (Sept 23), the apex court said the charges against Imran Mohd Arip and Tamilselvam Yagasvranan have also been amended.

The duo are among three men sentenced to death by the High Court in 2019 for their involvement in a 2017 transaction of 19.42g of diamorphine, otherwise known as heroin.

The Misuse of Drugs Act provides for the death penalty when the amount of heroin trafficked exceeds 15g.

Imran, Tamilselvam and another man, Mr Pragas Krissamy, had met on Feb 8 that year in the fourth-storey corridor of Block 518 Jurong West Street 52.

Mr Pragas allegedly took out a white plastic bag containing the heroin from his backpack and handed it to Imran before leaving with Tamilselvam.

The three men were arrested shortly after the transaction took place.

Following the High Court trial, Imran, who was 49 then, was convicted of one count of engaging in a conspiracy with the other two men to traffic drugs.

Tamilselvam, who was 32, and Mr Pragas, who was 34, were each convicted of one count of trafficking the drugs to Imran, in furtherance of a common intention.

Mr Pragas maintained during the trial that he thought he was carrying contraband cigarettes and did not know about the drugs.

The Court of Appeal's order for a retrial on Thursday follows Mr Pragas' acquittal in December last year.

Among other things, the court found that the prosecution had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr Pragas had "a clear, grounded and targeted suspicion" that he was actually carrying drugs.

At the time, it also ordered for the charges against Imran and Tamilselvam to be amended, in the light of Mr Pragas' acquittal and its findings against the duo.

Imran now faces a charge of conspiring with Tamilselvam to traffic the drugs.

Tamilselvam is currently charged with one count of drug trafficking by delivering the drugs to Imran jointly with Mr Pragas.

In Thursday's written grounds, the apex court noted that both men had refused to confirm that their defence will remain the same against their amended charges, and that their evidence will remain the same as that admitted at the previous trial.

Tamilselvam had also "made clear that he intends to offer" a new defence during a retrial, said the court, among other things. The apex court therefore ordered a retrial for both men.

The Court of Appeal also commented in its written grounds on the conduct of Tamilselvam's lawyer, Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, in court proceedings.

It noted that the submissions made by Mr Thuraisingam's firm contained "grave allegations" against Tamilselvam's previous lawyers - a team of three men who had represented him at the trial.

These included claims that the lawyers had refused to run Tamilselvam's case in accordance with their then client's instructions, engaged in witness coaching, and submitted a false version of events before the court.

The apex court noted that the allegations were first raised in the submissions, before the previous lawyers had been given any chance to respond.

Among other things, the Court of Appeal said it was concerned by the fact that only one of the three lawyers was notified that the submissions were filed.

It said that such conduct contravened one of the legal profession rules, stressing that it is a matter of duty for a legal practitioner to provide a fellow professional with "sufficient particulars of the allegation" to enable the latter to fully respond.

But the Court of Appeal noted that Mr Thuraisingam had acknowledged the breach of the rule, taken full responsibility and unreservedly apologised at the start of the hearing before the court.

It said cases where the accused persons sought to level accusations and allegations against their previous lawyers, in a bid to escape the consequences of their crimes, have increased in frequency in recent years.

This trend appears to be evolving, given that allegations are being made through an accused person's newly appointed lawyers in their submissions, said the apex court.

"Regardless of the truth of any such allegations, they cannot and should never be made lightly, and certainly not without proper observance of the relevant professional conduct rules," it said.

"We express our strong disapprobation of such conduct and leave the full extent of which, if any, to be addressed separately."