A hangman's noose

Drug trafficker who made allegations against former lawyers loses appeal, judgment reserved in co-accused’s appeal against death sentence

45-year-old Ranjit Singh Gill Menjeet Singh will have to spend his remaining life behind bars and be caned 15 strokes for trafficking in 35.21g of diamorphine, as the Court of Appeal threw out his appeal based on, among other things, allegations that his lawyers at trial had failed to present his case according to instructions.

The fate of his co-accused on death row, 46-year-old Mohammad Farid bin Batra, however remains unknown, as the Court of Appeal reserved judgment in his appeal on Thursday (17th October).

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon – who presided over both appeals with Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash and Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang – will be issuing detailed reasons for their decision in both appeals in due course.

Ranjit, a self-employed driver from Malaysia, drove a Malaysian-registered bus to Choa Chu Kang Way on 6th February 2014, where he handed a white Robinsons plastic bag to Farid in exchange for a red-and-yellow package.

Following the exchange, Ranjit and Farid went on their separate ways in their respective vehicles. Officers from the Central Narcotics Bureau followed both vehicles, intercepted them and arrested both men.

At trial, Ranjit’s defence was that he had no knowledge that the Robinsons bag, which turned out to contain the 35.21g of diamorphine for which both men were charged for trafficking in, contained anything illegal, let alone knowing that it contained heroin. Farid, on the other hand, essentially “pleaded guilty” to the charge and attempted to submit that he was merely a courier for the purposes of sentencing.

In June 2016, Justice Hoo Sheau Peng, who was then a Judicial Commissioner, found both men guilty of drug trafficking. Ranjit received a certificate of substantive assistance from the Public Prosecutor and was found to be merely a courier in respect of the offence charged, and therefore escaped the death penalty. Farid did not meet both requirements and was accordingly sentenced to death.

On appeal, Ranjit attempted to mount a new case through his new lawyers Mr Bachoo Mohan Singh and Mr Too Xing Ji, that he had no reason to carry drugs into Singapore. He filed an application to adduce further evidence of his personal and financial circumstances, and to retract his agreement to a Statement of Agreed Facts between the Prosecution and Defence.

The application was first heard by the Court of Appeal in August 2017, where the court refused to allow Ranjit to retract his agreement. The fresh evidence was left to be considered together with the appeals when they first came for hearing in February last year.

At that hearing, the Court of Appeal noted that the evidence was contradictory to the case run at the trial below, and suggested that there were two possibilities: either Ranjit was lying, or that his former team of lawyers, led by Mr Singa Retnam, did not present his case at trial according to instructions.

The court then eventually decided, during the second hearing in March last year, to send the matter back to Justice Hoo for a trial on the limited issue of whether Mr Retnam had acted in accordance with Ranjit’s instructions.

Following a five-day hearing in the High Court, Justice Hoo delivered a second judgment in March this year, finding that Mr Retnam did in fact present Ranjit’s case according to instructions, save for one limited aspect – the failure to challenge the usage of the Malay words “barang” and “makan” in Ranjit’s statements as referring to illegal items. Nevertheless, Justice Hoo held that this limited aspect has no effect on her verdict.

At Thursday’s resumed hearing of the appeals, Mr Singh made yet another new argument that Ranjit’s conviction should be quashed, as Mr Retnam’s failure to challenge the statements has occasioned a “miscarriage of justice”.

However, CJ Menon told Mr Singh that it was not open to him to make this argument, given that Ranjit’s purported new case on appeal was focused on his personal and financial circumstances and not his former lawyers’ competencies.

Farid, who was represented by Mr Thangavelu and Mr Eugene Thuraisingam on appeal, now challenges his drug trafficking conviction as well, notwithstanding his admission to guilt at trial.

To this, he relied on the case of Ramesh Perumal v Public Prosecutor delivered this year, arguing that he had instructions from one “Abang”, whom he claimed was Ranjit, to hold the drugs for him temporarily, such that his act of “returning” the drugs does not amount to trafficking.

As for Farid’s sentence of death, Mr Thangavelu argued that notwithstanding drug paraphernalia found in Farid’s flat, Farid had not received clear instructions from Abang as to how the drugs were to be dealt with. As such, he submitted the benefit of the doubt should be given to Farid and that he should be treated as being a mere courier,