Apex court acquits drug courier of one charge
The prosecution's practice of bringing two separate charges against an offender in relation to a single block of cannabis-related plant material is "indefensible" and "impermissible", the Court of Appeal said last Wednesday.
The ruling came as the apex court acquitted a Malaysian drug courier of one charge of importing cannabis mixture, while upholding his conviction on a second charge of importing cannabis.
The sentence of life imprisonment imposed on Saravanan Chandaram remains unchanged, but he will now be given 15 strokes of the cane instead of 24.
In a 102-page written judgment, the three-judge court overruled the interpretation of "cannabis mixture" laid down more than two decades ago in a previous Court of Appeal decision.
The court, comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Steven Chong, held that cannabis mixture meant a mixture of cannabis and another type of plant matter.
Saravanan, who is in his 30s, was arrested at Woodlands Checkpoint on Nov 6, 2014, after driving a Malaysian-registered car into Singapore.
Ten bundles were found to be concealed in the car.
An analysis by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) found that the bundles contained at least 1.38kg of cannabis and at least 3.29kg of fragmented vegetable matter containing chemical compounds found in cannabis.
Saravanan was charged with one count of importation of cannabis and another count of importation of cannabis mixture.
The dual charges were in line with the prosecution's practice in such cases of cannabis trafficking, importation or exportation.
Saravanan was tried and convicted of both charges by the High Court, which rejected his claim that he thought the bundles contained contraband tobacco.
He was spared the death penalty as the judge found he was a mere courier and the prosecution certified he had substantively assisted the authorities in disrupting drug trafficking activities.
Saravanan was sentenced to life imprisonment and the minimum of 15 strokes of the cane per charge, resulting in a final 24 strokes, which is the maximum allowed under the law.
He appealed against his conviction and sentence.
The apex court dismissed his appeal on the cannabis charge, finding his contraband tobacco claim to be "incredible".
But the court said the cannabis mixture charge could not stand.
The court noted that in the course of HSA's testing process, vegetable fragments distinct from pure cannabis are created as by-products.
These vegetable fragments did not exist in that form at the time Saravanan brought the 10 bundles into Singapore, said the court.
"We do not see how it can be held that at the time of the offence, the appellant knew the nature of the created fragmented vegetable matter or knew that it was cannabis mixture," said the court.