Mastermind who recruited and gave instructions to drug couriers gets death penalty

SINGAPORE - A Malaysian debt collector, who was implicated by two drug couriers as the mastermind behind a heroin transaction, was sentenced to hang on Friday (May 15).

Punithan Genasan, 37, is the first person here to be handed the death penalty via remote hearing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

He was found to be complicit in trafficking at least 28.5g of heroin by introducing the two couriers to each other in 2011, and instructing one to drive into Singapore two weeks later to meet the other.

He left Singapore on the day he introduced the duo - Malaysian V. Shanmugam Veloo and Singaporean Mohd Suief Ismail - and was eventually extradited to Singapore on Jan 21, 2016, five days after he was arrested in Malaysia.

Punithan denied any connection to the pair and disputed their testimonies that he had recruited them to transport drugs, linked them up and arranged the transaction.

He called a friend and his wife as witnesses to support his claim that he never met the couriers and that it was impossible for him to have planted the drugs in the car.

But his alibi defence was rejected by High Court judge Chan Seng Onn, who pronounced the mandatory death penalty in a hearing on video-conferencing platform Zoom.

Justice Chan said the couriers had given detailed and cogent accounts of their relationships with Punithan. In contrast, Punithan was unable to explain how the couriers knew personal details about him.

The couriers were convicted in 2015 after a joint trial. Shanmugam, then 30, was sentenced to life imprisonment and 15 strokes of the cane while Suief, then 46, was sentenced to death.

During Punithan's trial, which started in January 2018, the court heard how he had recruited them separately.

Shanmugam was offered RM 7,000 (S$2,300) a month to drive a Perodua Kenari into Singapore.

Suief agreed to work for Punithan by helping him receive and deliver shipments of heroin from Malaysia.

On Oct 12, 2011, Punithan introduced the two at the carpark of McDonald's at West Coast Park.

On Oct 27, 2011, Punithan took possession of the car for a few hours before returning it to Shanmugam.

The next day, Shanmugam drove the car to Singapore and picked up Suief at a bus stop at Haw Par Villa.

Punithan then phoned Suief and told him to deliver three of the 10 bundles of heroin that were in the car.

Shanmugam and Suief were arrested shortly after.

Punithan, who worked for a moneylending company in Malaysia, claimed that he never met the pair on Oct 12. He said he was preoccupied with collecting a debt and accompanied by his friend, Gobi Krishna Karuppiah.

He also claimed that he could not have passed the car to Shanmugam in Johor on Oct 27, as he was in Kedah celebrating Deepavali with his family.

Justice Chan accepted that Punithan was in Singapore to collect a debt, but said there was ample time for him to meet the couriers that day, based on immigration records.

The judge could not rule out that Mr Gobi would lie to protect Punithan. He noted that the witness could "astoundingly" recall the events eight years ago in minute detail but his "superhuman memory" failed him when asked other questions.

As for the testimony of Punithan's wife that he was with her in Kedah, the judge said her exonerating evidence must be treated with caution as she was an interested witness.

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