Court of Appeal acquits man on death sentence accused of trafficking cannabis

·4 min read
PHOTO: Supreme Court (Yahoo News Singapore)
PHOTO: Supreme Court (Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — Two men who were initially convicted of drug trafficking were acquitted by the Court of Appeal on Friday (27 May). One of them was originally sentenced to death.

The appeal of Raj Kumar Aiyachami, 40, against his conviction and mandatory death sentence for drug trafficking was allowed by the three-judge court led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.

Aiyachami, a Singaporean, had been able to successfully establish his defence of mistaken delivery and rebut the presumption of knowledge under the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA).

The court also allowed the appeal of Ramadass Punnusamy, 41, against his sentence of life imprisonment and 15 strokes of the cane.

Punnusamy, a Malaysian, was able to successfully establish his defence that he believed he was delivering chemically-sprayed tobacco, and rebut the presumption of knowledge under the MDA. Furthermore, the statements used to show that he had actual knowledge of the nature of the drugs could not be relied on.

Delivering bag of cannabis on 21 September 2015

Aiyachami and Punnusamy had been charged over a bag of drugs containing not less than 1.875 kilograms of cannabis. Punnusamy was observed by Central Narcotics Bureau officers to be delivering the bag to Aiyachami around the Senoko area on 21 September, 2015.

While Aiyachami did not dispute his possession of the bag of drugs, he contended that there had been a "mistaken delivery", as he had ordered tobacco laced with a synthetic chemical that mimicked the narcotic effects of cannabis, which is known as Butterfly. He had gone to the Senoko location to pick up the chemically-sprayed tobacco, but received the bag of cannabis instead.

Aiyachami - who was represented by lawyer Ramesh Tiwary - then called an individual, Mark Kalaivanan Tamilarasan, who testified that he had gone to the Senoko location to pick up a delivery of cannabis and chewable tobacco, but received Butterfly instead. He also called another individual, Vicneswaran Subramaniam, who testified he had been buying Butterfly from Aiyachami at around the time of the offence.

Punnusamy, meanwhile, did not dispute that he had delivered the bag of cannabis to Aiyachami, but contended that he did not know the nature of the drugs. At the time of his arrest, he had given three statements in which he appeared to have admitted to having knowledge of the nature of the drugs.

During his trial, Punnusamy, who was represented by lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam, contested the voluntariness as well as accuracy of the statements.

Trial judge findings, Court of Appeal conclusions

The trial judge had disbelieved Aiyachami's account, finding it too incredible to believe. He also rejected Tamilarasan's evidence because he found that he and Aiyachami had ample opportunity to collude and manufacture the evidence gave in court.

Similarly, the judge had rejected Punnusamy's evidence, saying that he had ample opportunity to tailor the evidence in order to fit Aiyachami's defence. He also found that the contested statements had been given voluntarily and held that they were admissible.

Aiyachami was given the mandatory death sentence. Punnusamy was sentenced to life imprisonment and the mandatory minimum of 15 strokes of the cane.

On Friday, Chief Justice Menon said that without a specific finding of actual collusion, Tamilarasan's evidence should not have been rejected. The Court of Appeal also noted that by giving his evidence, Tamilarasan was implicating himself in a very serious offence that he had not been charged with or investigated for.

"The fact that Mark had effectively confessed to having at least attempted to commit a serious offence is a weighty factor in evaluating his evidence," the judges said.

The court also disagreed with the trial judge's finding that Aiyachami must have known he was in possession of cannabis because of the smell emanating from the package.

Meanwhile, the court also found that numerous discrepancies and inconsistencies regarding the words that Punnusamy used in the statements, as well as the times they were recorded at, making them unsafe to be relied on to show that he had actual knowledge of the drugs.

"Where the case against an accused person turns on the specific words that are reflected in a statement, as is the case here, it is critically important that the court be satisfied as to the accuracy of the statement," said the court.

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