Malaysian man escapes hanging after being acquitted on drug charge by Court of Appeal

Beh Chew Boo was sentenced to death in Jan 2020 by the High Court.
Beh Chew Boo was sentenced to death in Jan 2020 by the High Court.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A 38-year-old Malaysian man escaped the noose when he was acquitted by the Court of Appeal on Tuesday (Oct 13) of a charge of being a drug courier.

Beh Chew Boo, was arrested in 2016 for allegedly attempting to carry 499.97g of methamphetamine across the causeway. He was sentenced to death in January this year by the High Court.

Despite the acquittal, though, he will continue to be in remand while the Court decides on how it will proceed on other four charges connected to his case, which have been temporarily stood down.

The higher court - presided over by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judges of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang and Steven Chong - found, among other things, that there were insufficient grounds to prove that Beh was completely aware that he was ferrying drugs.

This was because his fingerprints and DNA were not on the parcels, and the motorcycle he was riding - on which the drugs were found - was borrowed from a friend and did not belong to him.

Beh was arrested on Oct 26, 2016, when he entered Singapore from Malaysia at the Woodlands Checkpoint at around 5.20am. He was riding a Malaysian-registered motorcycle owned by his friend and ex-colleague, one Lew Shyang Huei. Beh's girlfriend, Ting Swee Ling, was riding pillion.

Police Constable Israel Rajan, who stopped Beh and Ting for a routine check, found several bundles of a crystalline substance inside the storage compartment of the motorcycle and arrested the duo. Investigations later revealed that the bundles contained the methamphetamine.

When questioned, Beh said that he did not know the drugs were in the motorcycle which he had borrowed. He also claimed that he had borrowed the motorcycle from Lew many times to enter Singapore, as the toll fees were cheaper than if he were to drive a car.

Beh also admitted that he recognised the drugs seized on the day of his arrest as "yao tou yuan" (a Chinese term for meth), as he had consumed such drugs on Oct 22, 2016 at a party hosted by Lew.

However, Beh denied that the drugs found in the motorcycle's storage compartment were his. He also claimed that he had never seen them before his arrest and did not know the contents of the packages until they were unwrapped.

Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang noted that Beh at the time of his trial could not rebut the presumptions of possession and knowledge and convicted him accordingly.

But there were other factors that justified an acquittal, said Justice Tay.

For one, Beh's DNA was not found on any of the drug bundles, but Lew's fingerprints and DNA were found on the interior and exterior of the bundles.

"Lew was linked inextricably to the drug bundles in the motorcycle. Only his DNA was on the drug bundles, a fact which the prosecution accepted as suggesting that Lew was the person who packed the drugs," said Justice Tay.

Lew had been arrested for unrelated drug charges, and had been sentenced in July 2018 to a seven year prison term. He was in prison while the trial against Beh proceeded from July 2019, but was not called to testify.

Justice Tay said that the prosecution in deciding not to call Lew to the stand, despite him being "readily available to testify", was not able to fully disprove Beh's defence that he knew nothing about the drugs.

"In the unique circumstances here, we are of the view that Beh's account was not inherently incredible," Justice Tay said.