Facing the gallows, man walks free after Singapore apex court quashes drug trafficking charges

Singapore’s Supreme Court quashed a drug trafficking charge on a Nigerian man May 27, 2019, allowing him to walk free. — TODAY pic
Singapore’s Supreme Court quashed a drug trafficking charge on a Nigerian man May 27, 2019, allowing him to walk free. — TODAY pic

SINGAPORE — For more than two years, Adili Chibuike Ejike had been on death row after he was sentenced to hang for importing almost two kilogrammes of methamphetamine.

But today, the Nigerian national — who had been in remand since 2013 — became a free man.

The Court of Appeal quashed the conviction, as it was not satisfied that Adili, 36, knew that the drugs were in his suitcase which he was instructed by childhood friends — whom he had sought financial help from — to pass to someone else in Singapore.

Two packets of controlled drugs were found hidden in the inner lining of the suitcase.

As Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon read out the judgment today, on behalf of a panel of three judges, Adili buried his head in his hands and sobbed in relief.

Speaking to TODAY after the hearing through an interpreter, Adili said he was “grateful to the Singapore justice system”, and was looking forward to returning home as soon as possible.

“All I want is to go back home and recover from the past years of my prison sentence, before I think about that,” he said, when asked about his plans after he returns to Nigeria.

Adili was 28 years old when he was arrested in November 2011 at Changi Airport.

The unemployed man, who has primary education, had travelled from Lagos, Nigeria to Singapore.

He was found guilty of drug importation by a High Court judge in June 2016.

In April 2017, he was sentenced to the mandatory death penalty when the public prosecutor did not issue him a certificate of substantial assistance.

Adili was represented by Mohamed Muzammil Mohamed and Lam Wei Seng, who were assigned to him through the Legal Assistance for Capital Offences scheme.

Elements to be proven

In the Court of Appeal ruling, the judges said that three elements must be proven to convict someone of drug importation:

  • The accused was in possession of the drugs
  • He or she had knowledge of the nature of the drugs
  • He or she had intentionally brought the drugs into Singapore without prior authorisation

During the High Court trial, Muzammil argued that Adili did not know the packets contained methamphetamine, also known as Ice. He conceded that Adili knew he was in possession of the drugs.

However, Senior Judge Kan Ting Chiu accepted the prosecution’s argument that Adili had failed to rebut the presumption of knowledge as he was “wilfully blind”.

The High Court judge found him to be an unreliable witness, given the inconsistencies between his testimony in court and his investigation statements, which included what he knew about the suitcase’s contents.

While Adili was of below-average intelligence, the judge ruled that his cognitive functioning was not impaired. He then convicted Adili of the capital charge.

In reversing the High Court’s decision, the appeal judges — comprising CJ Menon as well as Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Judith Prakash — ruled that Adili was, in fact, not wilfully blind to the existence of the drug bundles in his suitcase.

This was because Adili could not have discovered the drugs even if he opened and checked his suitcase, which were only found when Immigration and Checkpoints Authority officers cut open the inner lining.

“Nor could (Adili) have found out about the drugs by asking the persons who had handed him the suitcase in Nigeria since it was apparent that they were intent on keeping the truth of the matter from him, and would not have told him about the hidden drug bundles even if he had asked,” the judges added.

What constitutes ‘wilful blindness’

The Court of Appeal judges also took the opportunity to set out what constitutes “wilful blindness”, a subject that they noted “much ink has indeed been spilt over”.

The accused must have had a clear, grounded and targeted suspicion of the fact to which he is said to have been wilfully blind.

The accused must have had access to reasonable means of inquiry which, if taken, would have led him to discover the truth.

The accused must have deliberately refused to inquire, in order to avoid negative legal consequences.

Meanwhile, the judges highlighted the importance of the prosecution and defence being alert to the implications of conceding what accused persons do or do not know about the offence.

During the High Court trial, the defence had misunderstood the requirements of possession, and wrongly conceded that Adili was in possession of the drugs.

The prosecution also proceeded on the basis that Adili did not know the drugs existed, before seeking to have that fact presumed to be true.

“The prosecution could not invoke the presumption to presume that (Adili) actually knew of the existence of the drug bundles when its case, both below and on appeal, was that the appellant did not actually know,” the judges said. — TODAY