The Court of Appeal in Singapore on Thursday reversed its 2015 decision to convict a 34-year-old Nigerian man, Ilechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudi, of drug trafficking charges, nine years after the alleged offence occurred.
On November 13, 2011, Chukwudi flew from Lagos, Nigeria to Singapore after collecting a black luggage from a friend at the Nigerian airport. He found only clothes in it and the luggage passed several immigrations checks in both countries without problems.
Chukwudi then 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.
The Nigerian was arrested and 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, but 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.
On March 6, 2017, a psychiatric report that was prepared for the sentencing states that Ilechukwu was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when his “false” statements were recorded.
A psychiatrist, Dr Jaydip Sarkar, from the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), 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, having witnessed a massacre in his Nigerian hometown where he was nearly killed.
Again on August 2, 2017, 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, July 5, 2019, 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, September 17, 2020, the four apex court judges who acquitted Ilechukwu found that there was now a “plausible innocent explanation” for Ilechukwu’s lies and omissions.
The apex court ruled 4-1 to acquit him with Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang dissenting. While Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Senior Judge Chao Hick Tin, and Judges of Appeal Judith Prakash and Andrew Phang ruled in Ilechukwu’s favour.
Following a 4-1 split decision, Ilechukwu was declared a free man after his motive could no longer only be attributed to his guilty mind following his arrest in late 2011.
KanyiDaily recalls that a Nigerian man, Ibrahim Ibrahim, had also regained his freedom after three years in detention over alleged drug trafficking in Saudi Arabia.
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