SINGAPORE: TRAFFICKER ON DEATH ROW ESCAPES GALLOWS
March 5, 2012: In Singapore, the fate of a drug trafficker who was on death row has taken a second dramatic turn.
Thong Ah Fat, a 32-year-old Malaysian, now no longer faces the gallows if he is found guilty.
He was at first convicted in August 2010 to hang for importing more than 15g of heroin.
Then, in a landmark Court of Appeal ruling last December, he was granted a retrial on the grounds that the appeals court found the one-page judgment by the trial judge inadequate.
Then last week, with nine days scheduled for the retrial, representations by his assigned lawyers R. S. Bajwa and Mahmood Ghaznavi led to the prosecution's decision to reduce Thong's drug offences to a non-capital charge.
Thong is expected to plead guilty in the High Court today to a lesser charge of importing in not less than 14.99g of diamorphine.
This charge under the Misuse of Drugs Act carries a maximum of 30 years' jail and 24 strokes of the cane.
If convicted, he will be dealt at least 20 years' jail and 15 strokes of the cane, but at least he can be certain he will be spared the gallows.
Of the move by his lawyers to push for the charges to be reduced, lawyers say it is the general accepted practice in criminal cases for them to make representations for reduced charges to the public prosecutor on an accused person's behalf before a case is heard.
But such submissions are made based on justifiable circumstances. Under the law, the public prosecutor has the discretion to amend the charges - or not.
The defence lawyers are expected to plead for the court's leniency on their client's behalf, to help the court come to a fresh decision on the sentence to be meted out against Thong.
In its judgment last December, the Court of Appeal stressed that to order a retrial 'is never of course a light matter'.
'Much anxiety, inconvenience and even hardship is caused all round and sometimes the ultimate decision may not be different,' said the apex court's judgment grounds.
But the judge at his trial did not fully explain why Thong's account was not convincing, said the appeals court. It thus ordered a retrial in the interests of open justice.
Thong had been condemned to hang, despite claiming that he did not know the substance he was carrying was heroin. He had been caught with 10 packets of the drug in his car at the Woodlands Checkpoint in 2009. At his trial, he admitted he knew the bags contained drugs, but claimed he thought they were Ice.
Trafficking in more than 15g of heroin brings a mandatory death penalty.
Thong also claimed he was tricked into making a police statement shortly after his arrest.
The court noted that there was objective evidence to show he was an Ice addict.
But it was not clear whether the trial judge had considered this, which made the judgment 'plainly unsatisfactory', said the appeals court. (Sources: Straits Times, 05/03/2012)