SINGAPORE - A delivery driver, who failed to convince a high court judge that he did not know he was delivering drugs instead of contraband cigarettes, has been handed the death penalty after being convicted of drug trafficking.
Mohamed Shalleh Abdul Latiff's defence during a seven-day trial that concluded on Jan 28 hinged on the claim that he thought the three bundles he was tasked to deliver contained contraband cigarettes.
But the bundles were found to have contained 54.04g of diamorphine, also known as heroin. The Misuse of Drugs Act provides for the death penalty if the amount trafficked exceeds 15g.
In her grounds of decision released on Wednesday (Apr 10), High Court Judge Hoo Sheau Peng said the accused failed to successfully rebut the statutory presumption of knowledge of the drugs he was carrying.
At the end of the trial, Justice Hoo passed the mandatory death sentence on Mohamed Shalleh. There were no details on the accused's age and nationality.
On Aug 11, 2016, Mohamed Shalleh received from Malaysian Khairul Nizam Ramthan an orange-coloured plastic bag and three bundles wrapped in brown paper that were packed in separate zip-lock bags. Each bundle was round, irregularly-shaped and about the size of one's palm.
He passed the Malaysian man $7,000, which was given to Mohamed Shalleh by a friend who had arranged the delivery, and the men parted ways in separate cars.
Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officers tailed both men and arrested Mohamed Shalleh at Mei Ling Street where he was due to deliver the goods to a third party. The Malaysian man was arrested at Woodlands Checkpoint.
Mohamed Shalleh maintained in his statements that he was only delivering contraband cigarettes for a friend known to him as "Bai", who said the delivery would offset some of the debt that Mohamed Shalleh owed him.
This was the second time he had agreed to help Bai deliver contraband cigarettes, and Bai said it would involve two and a half cartons of cigarettes.
However Justice Hoo picked at the defence that Mohamed Shalleh trusted and believed Bai's word that the delivery only concerned cigarettes.
The accused met Bai in prison in 2008, but they lost contact. They became re-acquainted in 2014 at the Singapore Turf Club in Kranji, where Mohamed Shalleh would place bets with Bai who was a "bookie", and as a result he owed Bai at least $7,000.
They met again at a friend's wedding in 2016, where Bai gave the accused more time to repayment his debt.
Among various reasons cited for his trust in Bai, Mohamed Shalleh said he believed the former's claim that he dealt in the business of contraband cigarettes. He said he also trusted Bai because he did not insist he repay his debt and that they had mutual friends who said Bai could be trusted.
As a result, the accused claimed he was not suspicious and did not verify the contents of the goods he was delivering as he believed they contained contraband cigarettes.
However, Justice Hoo said these points were "weak support" for the strong claim of trust placed in Bai, and noted that during cross-examination the accused said he did not know basic details about Bai including his actual name or home address.
The accused also claimed the three bundles had been placed inside the orange-coloured plastic bag when he received them and thus never saw them until CNB officers searched his car.
However, Justice Hoo noted this ran contrary to the evidence given by CNB's senior staff sergeant Tay Keng Chye, who testified that the bundles were found beside the orange plastic bag on the floorboard of the car.
"As the three bundles were left exposed on the floorboard, the accused would have caught sight of their appearance," said Justice Hoo, adding that their round and irregular shape should have aroused suspicion to the nature of their contents.
When questioned, Mohamed Shalleh insisted he would still believe they contained cigarettes, as it was possible they could have been repacked into smaller packets.
However, Justice Hoo found this claim untenable.
She said the accused had been given specific instructions to receive two and a half cartons of cigarettes, and she did not believe Mohamed Shalleh would have "blindly" gone through with the transaction if he could not visually verify the contents of the bundles.
In her concluding remarks, Justice Hoo said the covert and complex nature of the delivery should have triggered suspicion as to the value and nature of the goods.
For this to be overlooked, a high degree of trust in Bai would have to be found, however this was not borne out by the evidence of the case.
"Having reviewed the evidence in totality, I found that the accused failed to show any unique circumstances justifying the high level of trust in Bai, and I was unpersuaded that he relied on the information allegedly given by Bai," said Justice Hoo.