Malaysian man escapes gallows after apex court acquits him of trafficking in heroin

The apex court held that there was insufficient evidence to show that Pragas Krissamy was aware he was being overpaid for carrying contraband cigarettes. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A Malaysian man was spared the gallows on Friday (Dec 18) after he was acquitted by the Court of Appeal of drug trafficking.

Pragas Krissamy was among three men sentenced to death by the High Court last year for their involvement in a transaction of 19.42g of diamorphine in 2017. The street name of diamorphine is heroin.

He was 34 then, while the other two - Singaporean Imran Mohd Arip and Malaysian Tamilselvam Yagasvranan - were 49 and 32 respectively.

On Friday, the apex court also ordered the drug trafficking charges against Imran and Tamilselvam to be amended.

On Feb 8, 2017, the trio met at the fourth storey corridor of Block 518 Jurong West Street.

Pragas then 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.

Pragas and Tamilselvam were each charged with one count of trafficking the drugs to Imran, in furtherance of a common intention.

Imran was charged with one count of engaging in a conspiracy with the other two men to traffick drugs.

All three were eventually convicted in the High Court of their respective charges and sentenced to death, which they subsequently appealed against.

Among other things, the court found that Pragas was "wilfully blind" to the drugs despite his claim that he had believed he was carrying contraband cigarettes and did not know about the drugs.

"Wilful blindness" is a legal term to describe a person deliberately shutting his eyes to the truth, and implies that had he opened his eyes, he would have seen it.

The High Court then ruled that Pragas had "a clear, grounded and targeted suspicion" of what he was to deliver - which is an element of "wilful blindness" - based on three reasons.

The first was that he was aware that he was overpaid for assisting in the delivery of the contraband cigarettes.

The second reason was that there was a difference between weight of the drugs in his backpack and that of two cartons of cigarettes, which Pragas had claimed he was told to help deliver.

The last reason was that the system of delivery by him and Tamilselvam on Feb 8, 2017, was "wholly out of keeping" with the delivery of contraband cigarettes.

But the Court of Appeal disagreed with the lower court's ruling, finding that the prosecution had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Pragas had such suspicion.

The court held that there was insufficient evidence to show that Pragas was aware that he was being overpaid for his role in the Feb 8 delivery.

The Court of Appeal also accepted Pragas' explanation that he did not notice that the weight of his backpack was different from that of two cartons of cigarettes, noting that the difference in weight was "marginal" of about 380g.

The apex court additionally ruled, among other things, that there was no evidence on the usual mode of delivery of contraband cigarettes in Singapore.

"It cannot be denied that contraband cigarettes are also illegal items and that their sale or delivery would also attract criminal punishment under the Customs Act," the court said.

"In that sense, we do not think the manner of the delivery on Feb 8, 2017, was such as to necessarily cause Pragas to suspect that it did not involve contraband cigarettes."

Separately in its judgment, the Court of Appeal rejected several arguments made by Tamilselvam and Imran, including the latter's defence that he had only intended to order one pound in gross weight of heroin and not two pounds.

If proven true, the defence would have reduced the pure weight of heroin trafficked in this case to below the minimum legal requirement for a death sentence.

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

The apex court also ordered the charges against Tamilselvam and Imran to be amended in the light of the court's findings against the two men and Pragas' acquittal, among other things.

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