Man cleared of drug use, reasonable doubt raised

He wins High Court appeal after raising questions over work of narcotics officers

A 56-year-old man with a long history of drug abuse yesterday got himself acquitted of his latest charge - for which he was sentenced to 7 1/2 years' jail - after he raised questions about the investigation work of narcotics officers.

Mr Lemmont Tan Beehunt had tested positive for opiates in his urine but insisted he was innocent. He argued that the substance monoacetylmorphine - a metabolite of heroin - could have come from "Chinese medicine" he had bought from a street peddler and taken to relieve pain.

Mr Tan contended that he had given the medicine to Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officers some time after his arrest, but nothing was done to send the bottle of black pills for analysis.

In November last year, a district judge, who did not believe Mr Tan, said the medicine was not seized because there was no such medicine. The judge then dealt with him under a sentencing regime for hardcore addicts. Mr Tan was not caned owing to his age.

Yesterday, Mr Tan appealed to the High Court against his conviction and sentence.

Arguing his own case, Mr Tan insisted he had handed the medicine to the CNB. He challenged the authorities to view surveillance footage from when he reported to the CNB.

"A picture paints a thousand words," he argued, saying he was carrying a big bag containing prescription medicine and the pills.

Mr Tan has been in and out of drug rehabilitation centres and prison for drugs since 1982. In 2010, he was jailed for five years and nine months under a scheme for re-offenders.

On Jan 13 last year, CNB officers arrested him to make him undergo a urine test. The test showed he had taken heroin, as no other medication can produce monoacetylmorphine in the urine.

Mr Tan contested a charge of drug consumption, arguing that the black pills may have been mixed with illegal substances. He insisted he had taken the medicine to the CNB after his arrest, but the bureau "suppressed" this.

An officer had testified that some medications were recovered from his home on Jan 13 and then photographed. But the pills Mr Tan blamed for his test results were missing from the photo.

He argued that the officer was lying about the date, pointing out that one of the prescription medications bore a label with the date Jan 18, 2016. In other words, the medications could not have been seized five days earlier, as claimed by the officer.

Yesterday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Star Chen argued that the district judge was satisfied that the CNB had recovered and photographed all the medications found at his home.

She noted that Mr Tan gave contradictory accounts about the medications at trial, undergirding the judge's finding that he was inventing the story as it suited him.

Justice Chan Seng Onn said Mr Tan has "raised serious credibility issues" with regard to the seizure of the medicine and created a reasonable doubt about the "suppression" of some Chinese medicine that may contain traces of illicit drugs.

A spokesman for the bureau said it will study the judge's comments and observations.

"CNB conducts regular reviews of investigative processes as part of our internal work process," said the spokesman.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2017, with the headline 'Man cleared of drug use, reasonable doubt raised'. Print Edition | Subscribe