Drug mule fails in bid to start court challenge against rejection of clemency petition

SINGAPORE - A bid by a Malaysian drug mule on death row to start a court challenge against the rejection of his clemency plea was dismissed by the High Court on Wednesday (Feb 12).

Pannir Selvam Pranthaman, 33, was granted a stay of execution in May last year (2019), a day before he was due to be hanged for importing heroin.

The Court of Appeal had granted him the temporary reprieve to give him an opportunity to take legal advice on whether he can mount a successful challenge against the rejection of his clemency petition to President Halimah Yacob.

Pannir, who is represented by lawyer Too Xing Ji, then applied for leave, or permission, to start judicial review proceedings.

The application was heard in chambers by Justice See Kee Oon on Tuesday (Feb 11) and he gave his decision on Wednesday.

Mr Too told The Straits Times his client will be appealing against the decision.

Pannir was convicted in 2017 with importing 51.84g of heroin into Singapore and sentenced to the mandatory death penalty.

After his appeal was dismissed in February 2018, he and his family submitted various clemency petitions.

Letters from the President's office, dated May 17, 2019, were couriered on May 16, informing the various parties that their petitions had been rejected.

In separate letters from the Singapore Prisons Service, also dated May 17, 2019, Pannir's family members were told that he would be hanged on May 24.

In an affidavit, the President's principal private secretary said he had signed the letters on May 7 but post-dated them by 10 days to May 17.

He also said that before May 7, Madam Halimah had been advised by the Cabinet that the law should be allowed to take its course.

Mr Too, in his written submissions, said the "continued failure to sufficiently explain why the letters giving notice of rejection of clemency had been post-dated by up to 10 days... gives rise to a reasonable suspicion that the entire clemency process had been infected with procedural impropriety".

Pannir is also challenging the Attorney-General's refusal to issue him a certifcate of substantive assistance, which might have spared him the death penalty.

He contended that he had substantively helped the Central Narcotics Bureau by providing information that led to the arrest of a drug trafficker named Zamri Mohd Tahir.


Mr Too argued that there was also a reasonable suspicion that the Cabinet failed to take this into account in advising the President to allow Pannir to be executed.

Senior State Counsel Francis Ng, representing the Attorney-General, argued that Pannir did not satisfy the threshold to be given leave to start judicial review proceedings.

Mr Ng said Pannir was "grasping at straws" by relying on the post-dated clemency notification letters.

He said it was clear from the evidence that, prior to May 7, 2019, the Cabinet had advised the President that the law should be allowed to take its course in relation to Pannir.

Mr Ng noted that the use of such letters was not a legal requirement but issued as a matter of administration to notify interested persons of the outcome of the clemency process.

He added that Pannir's identification of the drug trafficker came well after Zamri was arrested.

"It is indisputable that no information provided by the applicant was used in the prosecution of Zamri," said Mr Ng.