The Court of Appeal in Singapore has discharged and acquitted a Nigerian on death row for drug trafficking, nearly a decade after he was arrested.
In a rare decision, the country’s apex court reversed itself and found Ilechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudi 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 with him from Nigeria into Singapore on November 13, 2011.
He had collected the luggage at the airport in Nigeria, found only clothes in it. The luggage passed several immigrations checks in both countries without problems.
He handed the bag to a Singaporean stall assistant named Hamidah Awang at a Clarke Quay bus stop.
Hamidah’s car was then searched at Woodlands Checkpoint in River Valley Road, Singapore and drugs were discovered in the luggage.
The charge was punishable by death.
Ilechukwu 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 — Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, Mr Suang Wijaya and Mr 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 then 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, four out of five justices on the case found on Thursday (September 17, 2020) that Ilechukwu did not know there were drugs in the bag, finding that he had been “deceived” unwittingly into transporting drugs.
The apex court quashed its own decision, setting 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 added.
Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang dissented, while Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Senior Judge Chao Hick Tin, and Judges of Appeal Judith Prakash and Andrew Phang ruled in Ilechukwu’s favour.
In a statement, Ilechukwu’s lawyers said: “It has been a long and hard-fought pro bono case, involving specialist psychiatric evidence and issues of cross-cultural sensitivities…
“Had it not been for the fortuitous production of the IMH report, our client would have been sentenced to death or life imprisonment. We are delighted that justice has prevailed to acquit our client this morning.”
Ilechukwu’s acquittal makes it the second time in the last two years that a Nigerian citizen has defeated a capital drugs-related offence in Singapore.
In May 2019, Adili Chibuike Ejike, who had been sentenced to hang for importing almost 2kg of methamphetamine, was cleared by the Court of Appeal. Adili had similarly been arrested in 2011 in a related case.