Jail, fine and caning for leader of organised criminal group that dealt in illegal drugs

SINGAPORE - One of the two leaders of a local organised criminal group that dealt in illegal drugs was sentenced to 11½ years' jail, eight strokes of the cane and a fine of $20,000 on Wednesday (Sept 29).

Hermanto Abdul Talib, 44, who had worked as a part-time carpenter, will spend an additional four months behind bars if he is unable to pay the fine.

He had pleaded guilty to three charges under the Organised Crime Act.

Two other members of the group - Shafie Osman, 40, and Fadilah Haron, 51 - had been dealt with in court earlier after they pleaded guilty to their charges. They were also given jail terms, fines and caning.

The case involving Muhammad Sufyan Ruslee, 31, who is said to be the group's other leader, is still pending. All four men are Singaporeans.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Anandan Bala, Tan Wee Hao and Chong Kee En said in court documents that the criminal group's primary purpose was to derive financial benefits from the trafficking of new psychoactive substances (NPS), including 5-fluoro-MDMB-PICA.

The synthetic cannabinoid is also known as "mushroom" or "butterfly". It produces similar effects as cannabis.

The Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) said on its website that NPS were listed as Class A controlled drugs in May 2014.

Offenders caught consuming or in possession of NPS can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined up to $20,000.

In their submissions, the prosecutors said: "Drug traffickers and pushers often market or refer to such drugs as... 'legal highs' that may make them appear less dangerous than traditional drugs of abuse - despite NPS exhibiting chemical similarities to the latter.

"Courts should dispel such a dangerous and false notion of NPS by imposing deterrent sentences on those involved in the supply and distribution of NPS."

Hermanto recruited Shafie into the group in March 2019. The group had obtained the drug from a supplier known only as Yunos.

The group ran its drug-selling operation at a Geylang coffee shop from around 7pm to midnight daily.

According to court documents, Hermanto and Sufyan would instruct Shafie and Fadilah to sell the NPS together.

The prosecutors said that during each day's operation, the drugs would be stored at various locations in the vicinity of the coffee shop to facilitate their sale. They included the boxes on two parked bicycles nearby.

After each shift, Fadilah and Shafie would hand the proceeds to either Hermanto or Sufyan, said the prosecutors.

The court heard that one of them would pay Fadilah and Shafie about $100 each per day before splitting the remaining profits equally.

The two leaders made up to $200 each per day. About 20 to 30 customers bought the NPS from this group daily, and the customer base expanded by word of mouth.

On July 16, 2019, CNB officers conducted an operation to arrest those believed to be involved in the sale of the NPS.

They arrested all four men at the coffee shop at around 8.30pm that day and seized multiple packets of vegetable matter, later found to contain the unlawful substances.

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