SINGAPORE – An appeal by the man accused of killing art student Felicia Teo in 2007 to be acquitted of a murder charge was on Thursday dismissed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.
Ahmad Danial Mohamed Rafa’ee, 38, had sought a discharge amounting to an acquittal, which would have completely cleared him of the charge without a trial.
Ms Teo went missing in 2007, when she was 19. Ahmad was among the few people who had been with her when she was last seen alive.
A partial skull, which was later determined as likely to be of Ms Teo, was found in June 2010 during excavation works in Punggol. No other remains were found.
Ahmad was charged with murder in December 2020, but was given a discharge not amounting to an acquittal by a district judge in July 2022.
It means Ahmad can still be prosecuted if relevant information or evidence is to emerge.
The Chief Justice, in upholding the lower court’s decision, noted that Mr Ragil Putra Setia Sukmarahjana, who was also allegedly involved in Ms Teo’s death, is still a “live lead”.
The Chief Justice said as things stand, the murder charge against Ahmad “cannot proceed until and unless Mr Ragil’s assistance is secured”.
Prosecutors said they have reason to believe Mr Ragil is in Indonesia, and that they are in contact with the Indonesian authorities to secure his further assistance.
The Chief Justice said a discharge not amounting to an acquittal struck the correct balance between the public interest in completing investigations into Ms Teo’s death and Ahmad’s personal interest in being freed from the hardships that come from having an unresolved murder charge hanging over him.
A discharge not amounting to an acquittal allows the state to revive proceedings, while the accused is free of some restrictions that come with having been charged, such as being remanded in custody, the Chief Justice said.
The more serious the charge, the more the balance would tilt in favour of public interest, he noted.
In the present case, the public interest in enabling the investigations to be completed is perhaps at the highest end of the scale, he added.
Ahmad’s lawyer, Mr Shashi Nathan, pointed to the fact that the offence occurred some 16 years ago. But the Chief Justice noted that a delay in the conduct of investigations typically carries less weight when the delay is caused by the accused person.
Police had questioned Ahmad after Ms Teo went missing in 2007, but he claimed then that he did not know what had happened to her.
In 2020, a review of the case led to Ahmad being questioned again.
This time, he revealed that he was involved in the disposal of Ms Teo’s remains, that he was involved in the disposal of her possessions, and that he had not been truthful in 2007.
Last October, Ahmad was sentenced to 26 months’ jail on four charges relating to Ms Teo’s death – including one for dumping her corpse and one for giving false evidence to the police. The sentence was backdated to when he was arrested on Dec 15, 2020.
On the murder charge, the prosecution sought a discharge not amounting to an acquittal as Mr Ragil was still at large and efforts to trace him in Indonesia were ongoing.
On Thursday, Mr Nathan argued that it was unfair for his client to have the murder charge hanging over his head indefinitely and questioned the efforts made to locate Mr Ragil.
Mr Nathan also cited, as an example of the hardship caused to Ahmad, the fact that his application for his passport to be renewed was rejected because of the case.
But Deputy Public Prosecutor Yang Ziliang argued that the seriousness of the offence involved weighed heavily against an acquittal at this juncture.
An acquittal would grant Ahmad absolute immunity from ever being taken to task for the murder of the victim even if evidence of such involvement subsequently came to light, said the prosecutor.