In a rare move, the Singapore’s Court of Appeal on Thursday September 17, reversed its own decision to convict a Nigerian man of a capital drug trafficking charge, almost a decade after he was arrested and held in remand.
Ilechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudi faced a charge of trafficking almost 2kg (1,963.3g) of methamphetamine found in a black trolley bag he took with him from Nigeria into Singapore in 2011.
On Thursday, the apex court ruled 4-1 to acquit him with Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang dissenting. Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Senior Judge Chao Hick Tin, and Judges of Appeal Judith Prakash and Andrew Phang ruled in Ilechukwu’s favour.
The four appeal judges found that he had suffered from post-traumatic stress symptoms arising from a childhood trauma when he gave statements to the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) in 2011. This could have led to him giving “unsophisticated and blatant falsehoods” to the authorities.
Ilechukwu was acquitted after a trial in the High Court in 2014 but the apex court then 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 then successfully argued for the decision to be reviewed.
On Nov 13, 2011, Ilechukwu flew from Lagos, Nigeria to Singapore after collecting a black luggage at the Nigerian airport. He found only clothes in it and 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 and drugs were discovered in the luggage.
Ilechukwu was charged with trafficking in at least 1,963.3g of methamphetamine while Hamidah was charged with attempting to export the drugs.
In 2014, Justice Lee Seiu Kin acquitted Ilechukwu of the capital charge but convicted Hamidah. The High Court judge accepted that Ilechukwu had come to Singapore on business and did not know the luggage contained drugs.
The prosecution appealed against the acquittal and in June 2015, the Court of Appeal convicted Ilechukwu, finding that he had made “numerous lies and omissions” in his statements to the CNB that could not be explained.
The apex court then sent the case back to Justice Lee to determine if Ilechukwu should be given life imprisonment or the death penalty.
However, in 2017, his lawyers successfully persuaded the same panel of apex court judges to review the conviction due to a “unique turn of events”.
It was the first time in legal history where the Court of Appeal agreed that there could be enough new material to say that its previous decision was wrong.
An Institute of Mental Health (IMH) psychiatrist from the prosecution’s side had diagnosed Ilechukwu as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which arose as a result of childhood trauma. He had witnessed a massacre in his Nigerian hometown and was nearly killed.
The psychiatrist, Dr Jaydip Sarkar, found Ilechukwu’s PTSD symptoms were triggered after CNB officers told him that he faced the death penalty. Dr Sarkar also opined that Ilechukwu could have then lied to save his life.
Again, the Court of Appeal sent the case back to Justice Lee to hear new expert evidence on Ilechuwu’s mental state when he gave statements to the CNB in 2011.
Last year, the High Court judge found that Ilechukwu did previously suffer from PTSD and had experienced some post-traumatic stress symptoms when giving his statements.
On Thursday, the four apex court judges who acquitted Ilechukwu found that there was now a “plausible innocent explanation” for Ilechukwu’s lies and omissions.
His motive could no longer only be attributed to his guilty mind, they added.
The judges agreed that he suffered from post-traumatic stress symptoms in 2011, accepting three psychiatric experts’ evidence that his mental conditions “may have led him to grossly overestimate the threat on his life”.
“This may in turn have prompted him to utter the unsophisticated and blatant falsehoods in his statements in an attempt to escape from the death penalty and to save his life… In the circumstances, it is unsafe to draw any adverse inference against him from his lies and omissions.” said Senior Judge Chao Hick Tin.
Ilechukwu, who had maintained that an acquaintance asked him to pass the luggage to Hamidah, likely did not know there were drugs in it too, the judges ruled.
“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.
Meanwhile, Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang, the sole dissenting voice, said that Ilechukwu’s psychiatric disorders “would not have provided even a remotely satisfactory answer” to his lies and omissions.
The lies pointed “clearly and cogently” to his guilty mind, the judge added.
He also questioned why Ilechukwu did not tell the truth after about a week of persistently lying to the CNB and waited more than two years to do so in the initial High court trial.
In a statement after the acquital, Ilechukwu’ lawyers said: “It has been a long and hard-fought pro bono case, involving specialist psychiatric evidence and issues of cross-cultural sensitivities. We are delighted that justice has prevailed to acquit our client this morning.
Congratulatory messages have been pouring in for Eugene Thuraisingam and his leagal team since the acquital. See that below…
Romain Grosjean shares update from hospital after horror Formula 1 crash
Romain Grosjean, 34, has shared multiple updates from the hospital after he miraculously survived a horror crash that broke his car in half and saw it go up in flames while he was still in it.
The Haas-Ferrari driver said from the hospital that he is “loving life” after suffering only burns in Sunday’s horror Formula One crash.
His car crashed into a barrier early on during the Bahrain Grand Prix and his vehicle subsequently exploded into a fireball.
Viewers were stunned to see the French-Swiss veteran walk away from the wreckage seemingly injury free after race stewards quickly intervened with a fire extinguisher.
It was later revealed that Grosjean would need to stay in hospital overnight to be treated for burns on his hands.
With large bandages visible in his latest update on Instagram, the driver wrote: “Thank you so much for all your messages. Loving life.”
In an initial post, he said: “Hello everyone, I just wanted to say I am OK – well, sort of OK.
“Thank you very much for all the messages. I wasn’t for the halo some years ago, but I think it’s the greatest thing that we’ve brought to Formula 1.
“Without it I wouldn’t be able to speak with you today.”
Missing 3-year-old girl found safe and reunited with her mother in Rivers
A 3-year-old girl has been found safe and reunited with her mother after she went missing for six hours in Diobu area of Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital.
The Commander of Diobu Vigilante group, Godstime Ihunwo, who confirmed the incident on Sunday, November 29, said that the child went missing due to the ”carelessness” of her mother.
“Thanks b 2 God almighty as me & my boys in conjunction with 3 God-fearing & kind hearted men, whom out of their efforts made our job easier in rescuing one Miss Chinaza Ikpe, a 3 years old girl child that went missing 6 hours ago, at about 1pm 2day 29/11/2020, just bcs of d carelessness of her mother Mrs Chinasa. d Child has been handed over 2 d mother by me COMR. GODSTIME W. IHUNWO, d C.S.O./Commander Diobu Vigilante, RUMUELECHI COMMUNITY M/3 UNIT” he said.
Niger workers to resume suspended strike action on Tuesday
Workers in Niger state chapter of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), have disclosed that they will be resuming their suspended indefinite strike action over the decision of the State Government to pay the November salaries of civil servants on a percentage basis.
Leaders of the organized labour in the state said the strike will resume on Tuesday, 1st December 2020 should the government fails to address their grievances.
The NLC disclosed this in a letter addressed to Governor Dani Bello through the Niger Head of Service and signed by NLC Chairman, Comrade Yakubu Garba and TUC Chairman, Comrade Tanimu Yunusa.
“We write on behalf of the State Executive Council (SEC) of Niger State Organised Labour to convey to your esteemed office the harmonized position of the affiliate unions as follows:
“That Niger State Government should refund the slashed June 2020 2020 salaries to desirable civil servants latest Tuesday, 1st December.
“That the discussion on payment of outstanding October 2020 salaries of local government workers must be conclusive on or before Tuesday, December 1, 2020.
“That the proposal by Niger State Government to pay November 2020 salaries of LGAs and state workers on a percentage basis is unacceptable and vehemently rejected.
“That failure of the government to address issues 1, 2 and 3 above, the Organized Labour will be left with no other option than to resume the earlier suspended indefinite strike action effective midnight of
Tuesday, December 1, 2020.”