SINGAPORE, Aug 12 — It better served the public’s interest to grant Ahmad Danial Mohamed Rafa’ee a discharge not amounting to an acquittal for the alleged murder of 19-year-old Felicia Teo Wei Ling in 2007, rather than a full acquittal, a judge has ruled.

In his written grounds of decision released on Friday (Aug 12), District Judge Eugene Teo elaborated on why he had rejected arguments from Ahmad’s lawyers on June 27 for a discharge amounting to an acquittal for Ahmad’s capital murder charge.

The judge also said that Ahmad had shown he was proficient in “putting up false pretences” and “keeping the darkest of all secrets” to protect himself.

Ahmad, 37, has lodged an appeal with the High Court against District Judge Teo’s decision.

The former creative manager at gaming firm Razer now faces six less serious charges, including disposing of Teo’s corpse in the vicinity of Punggol Track 24 following her disappearance. He was set to plead guilty on July 6 but the hearing was adjourned due to issues to be resolved between the prosecution and defence.

A discharge not amounting to an acquittal means that the capital charge can be revived and Ahmad can still be prosecuted in the future should new evidence emerge, for instance.

The prosecution had applied for the discharge on the basis that the other main suspect — Mr Ragil Putra Setia Sukmarahjana, 34 — remains at large.

He is believed to be overseas, with his LinkedIn profile last listing him as being based on Jakarta, Indonesia. Ahmad’s new charges list him as a co-conspirator.

The two men are believed to have been the last to see Teo after a party at Block 19 Marine Terrace on June 30, 2007. The three are said to have been friends and had all attended Lasalle College of the Arts.

Her body has not been found and details of what actually happened to her have not publicly surfaced, though the prosecution previously said that a skull fragment was found where Ahmad allegedly said they had disposed of her body.

Ahmad was arrested on Dec 15, 2020 after new leads surfaced when the cold case was referred to the police’s Criminal Investigation Division for a fresh review. He was then remanded for about one-and-a-half years and is currently out on bail of S$20,000. He will return to court for a pre-trial conference on Sept 2.

Remand period not unduly long In his judgement dated Aug 4, District Judge Teo more thoroughly addressed three broad points made by Ahmad’s defence team, led by Mr Shashi Nathan from law firm Withers KhattarWong:

Ahmad and his family underwent a terrible time of suffering after he was charged with murder and remanded The progress of investigations has been unsatisfactory, is likely to remain so for an indeterminate period, and this has led to “insufferable prejudice” Ahmad instructed that he is not responsible for Teo’s death and there is no contrary evidence before the court District Judge Teo noted that it was important to understand the “unprecedented immensity” of what the lawyers were seeking — that is, absolute legal immunity from ever being taken to task for Teo’s alleged murder, even if more evidence subsequently comes to light.

District Judge Teo said: “Such immunity is unheard of in non-fictional settings; for good reason because we hold dear the value and dignity of human life, and will pursue all who treat it with less than the regard which it deserves. “So odious the crime that there are no limits to our resolve which remains undiminished nor unhindered by time. In the present case, the defence was precisely asking this court to put such a limit in place in favour of (Ahmad) and to make him the exception.” The judge said that even if one believes Mr Nathan’s claims that Ahmad has suffered since his remand, it did not come close to “displacing the larger and solemn public interest in ensuring that all those who may be responsible for Felicia Teo’s death are held to account for their actions”.

District Judge Teo said that the length of remand was not unduly long given the context of the case, and especially now that investigations have shown Ahmad was indeed involved in Teo’s disappearance.

Nevertheless, he acknowledged that the hardships and harassments suffered by Ahmad and his family were "not trivial".

Because his wife and relatives were not involved in what he purportedly did, they deserve to go about their lives in peace, and so does Ahmad once he has served his due, the judge said.

“The public’s interest is in ensuring that only those criminally responsible are held to account, but not more than that,” District Judge Teo added.

As for Mr Nathan’s argument that Ahmad was not responsible for Teo’s death, the judge said that it was far beyond the scope of the court hearing to conclude such a thing.

He further wrote: “In fact, the case itself indicated that some caution was due before any such conclusion could be safely reached.

“After all, this was an individual who had shown himself, over an extended period, adept at putting up false pretenses, adept at keeping the darkest of all secrets, and adept at marshalling those two skills together in self-preservation and in pursuance of his own interests.”

When District Judge Teo granted Ahmad the discharge in June, he had told the court that at some point in time, there should ideally be a review of this. — TODAY