Singaporean Court of Appeal frees two men convicted of trafficking cannabis

Two men found guilty of drug trafficking were set free by the Singaporean Court of Appeal on Friday May 27 2022. The court consists of three judges headed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.

Aiyachami Kumar Aiyachami, aged 40, had received a mandatory death sentence. Ramadass Punnusamy, aged 41, a Malaysian, received a sentence of life imprisonment and 15 strokes of the rattan cane. They had been found in possession of a bag holding cannabis weighing more than four pounds. Cannabis counts as a Class A drug in Singapore.

The Singaporean Court of Appeal building, which opened in 2005. Photo: Terence Ong

He thought he was delivering something else

Punnusamy had driven a truck to Singapore. He had been told he was delivering four bags of Butterfly. This is tobacco containing a chemical whose effects mimic those of cannabis. Aiyachami thought that was what he was receiving. The tale unfolded in the Senoko area of northern Singapore on 21 September 2015. Officers of the Central Narcotics Bureau watched Punnusamy deliver a red plastic bag to Aiyachami. Apparently unbeknownst to the pair, the bag actually contained cannabis. Aiyachami insisted this was a “mistaken delivery.” The trial judge decreed that he must have known he was getting cannabis due to its smell. The Court of Appeal begged to differ.

Someone else claimed to have got Butterfly when he wanted cannabis

Mark Kalaivanan Tamilarasan got talking to Aiyachami in the prison yard between November 2017 and January 2018. He testified that he had visited Senoko to get cannabis on 21 September 2015 but received Butterfly instead. He was certain of the date since his pet hamster perished that same evening, and he got a tattoo featuring the date. He gave evidence at the original trial, but the court found him unconvincing. The Court of Appeal, however, took him at his word. This was on the grounds that he was admitting to a terrible offence that had escaped police attention. It was “a weighty factor in evaluating his evidence.” Vicneswaran Subramaniam testified that he bought Butterfly from Aiyachami around the time of the “offence.”

Punnusamy’s statements were iffy

Punnusamy didn’t disagree that he had delivered the bag of cannabis to Aiyachami. He contended that he was unaware of what it contained. Upon his arrest, he gave three statements to police where he seemed to admit to knowledge of the drugs. His lawyer disputed that these were voluntary and also their accuracy. The trial judge didn’t believe this because the pair had had generous opportunity to confer and concoct a story. The High Court sentenced them in June 2020. The Court of Appeal, however, found a number of discrepancies in Punnusamy’s words and the times they were supposedly recorded. The panel declared that when “the case against an accused person turns on the specific words” they used, it’s crucial that the accuracy of the statement be beyond doubt.

Punnusamy’s lawyer stated that the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority would have to issue his client a temporary pass because his entry pass had expired.

It doesn’t always go this way

Sometimes, things go the other way. On Friday November 26 2021, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentences on 52-year-old Chandroo Subramaniam and 27-year-old Kamalnathan Muniandy who was, again, Malaysian. They were guilty of conspiring to traffic almost three pounds of cannabis. The court also dismissed the appeal of Malaysian national Pravinash Chandran, the 26-year-old courier. He had ended up with a sentence of life imprisonment and 15 cane strokes. This was despite telling the court that Muniandy was in charge of the operation and Subramaniam the intended recipient of the drugs.

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