Thai drug trafficker spared death penalty

For helping the authorities, the 30-year-old woman was given life imprisonment instead

A 30-year-old Thai woman, who agreed to help a Nigerian man transport "illegal stuff" from New Delhi to Bangkok via Singapore for $2,300, was spared the death penalty despite being convicted of importing 2kg of methamphetamine.

Instead, Samruamchit Wipha was given life imprisonment yesterday, after she was certified by the prosecution to have helped the authorities in a substantive way. Justice Choo Han Teck found that she "acted solely in the role of a courier".

She was detained at Changi Airport on Dec 17, 2012, with about 3kg of a crystalline substance, concealed in a false compartment in her backpack which contained clothing and shoes.

The substance was found to contain about 2kg of methamphetamine, commonly known as Ice. Under the law, anyone convicted of trafficking in more than 250g of Ice may face the death penalty.

During her High Court trial, Samruamchit testified that she only knew she would be carrying illegal stuff for "Kelvin", a Nigerian man she had met two months earlier. He approached her at a cafe in Bangkok, after she quarrelled with her Italian boyfriend over the phone.

Kelvin was very nice to her and they had sex, although she did not consider him her boyfriend.

She testified that she had delivered a bag containing clothes for Kelvin within Thailand. This led her to believe that the "illegal stuff" she was tasked to deliver were the clothes and shoes in the backpack.

But Justice Choo rejected her defence that she was unaware the backpack contained drugs, given that she had made various references to drugs in her statements to the Central Narcotics Bureau.

Samruamchit claimed that the Thai interpreter made a mistake in translation, but the judge noted that the Thai words for "drugs" and "illegal stuff" do not sound alike at all.

Justice Choo was also not satisfied that she really believed she would be paid $2,300 just to deliver a pile of inexpensive clothes and shoes, none of which were branded items.

"The evidence shows that she had agreed to carry the drugs from New Delhi to Bangkok via Singapore, and that she was to be paid for that service," he said.

New laws that took effect in 2013 gave judges the discretion to sentence drug couriers to life imprisonment instead of death, if they substantively assisted the authorities.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2015, with the headline 'Thai drug trafficker spared death penalty'. Print Edition | Subscribe