Drug trafficking: Singaporean court frees Nigerian on death row

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A Court of Appeal in Singapore yesterday discharged and acquitted a Nigerian, Mr. Ilechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudi who had been on death row for drug trafficking nine years after he was arrested, tried and sentenced.

The court, in a rare decision reversed itself and found the accused not guilty five years after the same court convicted him of the offence.

Ilechukwu faced a charge of trafficking almost 2kg (1,963.3g) of methamphetamine found in a black trolley bag he brought from Nigeria to Singapore on November 13, 2011.

He was said to have collected the luggage at Nigerian airport. The bag which contained clothes was also said to have passed several immigration checks in both countries.

He handed the bag to a Singaporean stall assistant named Hamidah Awang at a Clarke Quay bus stop.

According to The Nation, operatives found drugs the luggage when Hamidah’s car was checked at Woodlands Checkpoint in River Valley Road, Singaporege.

The charge was punishable by death.

Chukwudi was then acquitted after a trial in the High Court in 2014 but the appellate court reversed that decision in 2015 and found him guilty of drug trafficking.

His lawyers — Messrs Eugene Thuraisingam, Suang Wijaya and Johannes Hadi from Eugene Thuraisingam LLP, as well as Ms Jerrie Tan from K&L Gates Straits Law — argued for the decision to be reviewed.

At the sentencing stage, they provided “material evidence” showing that Ilechukwu was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with dissociative symptoms.

On August 3, 2017 the Court of Appeal had ordered a review of the case in light of the fresh evidence given by the psychiatrist who was a prosecution witness.

At the review, the court upheld their submissions and found that Ilechukwu experienced PTSD symptoms while giving statements to authorities.

In a split decision of four out of five justices, the court found Ilechukwu did not know there were drugs in the bag, adding that he had been “deceived” unwittingly into transporting drugs.

The court therefore reversed itself and set the Nigerian free.

“The picture that emerges from the evidence is that he had grossly misjudged (his childhood friend and acquaintance), and naively believed that he was doing a simple favour in return for promised business contacts.

“Unwittingly, he had been deceived into transporting drugs on their behalf to (their) contact in Singapore,” the judges stated.

Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang dissented while the Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Senior Judge Chao Hick Tin, Judges of Appeal Judith Prakash and Andrew Phang ruled in Ilechukwu’s favour.

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