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Nigerian on death row acquitted of drug trafficking by Court of Appeal

36-year-old Adili Chibuike Ejike, who was condemned to death 2 years ago for being found guilty of importing methamphetamine into Singapore, was cleared of the drug importation charge by the Court of Appeal on Monday (27 May) morning.

As such, the Nigerian would walk out of the prison a free man.

Adili arrived in Singapore in November 2011 from Lagos, Nigeria. His luggage bag was examined and only found to contain two packets of crystaline substance, with 1,961 grammes of methamphetamine content, after the inner lining of the bag was cut open.

At the trial below, Adili did not dispute that he had possession of the luggage bag and drugs, and the main issue is whether he had rebutted the presumption of knowledge as to the nature of the drugs.

In this regard, Adili’s defence was that he was given the luggage bag and some money, and was instructed to hand it over to someone. However, he did not know what was contained in the luggage bag.

After a protracted trial lasting nearly 2 years, Senior Judge Kan Ting Chiu found him guilty as charged. Even though Adili was a mere courier, he was given the death penalty as he did not have a certificate of substantive assistance from the Public Prosecutor.

To this, Adili filed a judicial review application to challenge the non-certification decision, which was dismissed in January last year by Justice See Kee Oon. There was a pending appeal against the dismissal which would be withdrawn in light of Adili’s acquittal.

The appeal against the drug importation charge was heard in October last year, and the Court of Appeal reserved judgment then.

Delivering the judgment of the court, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon explained that it was doubted that Adili can be said to be in possession of the drugs in the first place; given that apart from physical possession or custody, the accused person must also have knowledge as to the existence of drugs himself.

Also hearing the appeals were Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Judith Prakash.

The Court of Appeal had, in its written judgment, also set out guidelines and principles as to the doctrine of wilful blindness, i.e. where an accused person did not in fact know the true position, but sufficiently suspected what it was, and deliberately refused to investigate in order to avoid confirmation of his own suspicions.

In such a case, even though wilful blindness fell short of actual knowledge, the accused person would be treated as if he knew he had the drugs in possession.

As to the test for a finding of wilful blindness with regards to drug possession, the Court of Appeal laid down three requirements. First, the accused person must have had a clear, grounded and targeted suspicion of the fact to which he is said to have been wilfully blind.

Second, there must have been reasonable means of inquiry available to the accused person, which, if taken, would have led him to discovery of the truth.

Third, the accused person must have deliberately refused to pursue the reasonable means of inquiry available so as to avoid such negative legal consequences as might arise in connection with his knowing that fact

The Court of Appeal also held that the presumption of possession could not be invoked together with the doctrine of wilful blindness. As for the test of wilful blindness in relation to the nature of the drugs, the Court of Appeal left the issue open for another occasion to be considered.

As the Prosecution could not rely on the presumption of possession in Adili’s case, having sought to prove that he was wilfully blind, the court applied the test to the facts of the case and found that Adili was not wilfully blind as to the existence of the drugs.

The court held that, even if Adili had opened and checked the contents of the suitcase, he would not have been able to discover the drug bundles, which were only found after the inner lining of the suitcase was cut open.

Similarly, by asking the persons who had handed him the suitcase in Nigeria, Adili would not be able to find out about the drugs either, given that it was apparent that they were intent on keeping the truth of the matter from him, wrote CJ Menon.

Adili was represented by Mr Mohamed Muzammil and Mr Lam Wai Seng throughout the trial and appeal as well as during the judicial review application.