Malaysian death-row inmate files application to challenge apex court’s decision on drug trafficking conviction

Court of Appeal's decision to convict him of original capital charge "demonstrably wrong" and a "miscarriage of justice", says inmate

The case of 31-year-old Gobi a/l Avedian is one of the more controversial drug trafficking cases in recent times, not least because of his personal circumstances, combined with the fact that he was sentenced to death not by the High Court, but instead by the Court of Appeal upon the Prosecution’s appeal, and he would not ordinarily have a further legal recourse against such an outcome.

Now, in a twist of fate, Gobi’s present lawyer M Ravi has put forth two “new and compelling” bases to argue that the Court of Appeal’s decision in his case was erroneous and should be re-opened.

In court documents filed last Friday (3rd January) and seen by The Online Citizen, Gobi strenuously argues that in convicting him, the Court of Appeal had “departed from established legal precedents” concerning the presumption of knowledge under section 18(2) of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

This was done without giving even the slightest notice of the court’s intention either to his previous lawyers from KhattarWong LLP or to the Prosecution, who “similarly had not invited the [c]ourt to depart from previous authority”, and whose written submissions were based on the well-established legal principles concerning s 18(2) of the MDA.

Gobi also relies on the Court of Appeal’s judgment in Adili Chibuike Ejike v Public Prosecutor dated 27 May 2019, which was delivered after his conviction by the apex court in October 2018, in arguing that the Court of Appeal had wrongly “proceeded on the basis that he was presumed to be wilfully blind” as to the nature of the offending drugs.

A husband and a father of two, Gobi was asked to transport controlled drugs by one Vinod into Singapore on a commission basis, as he could not afford to pay his daughter’s hospital bills with his meagre salary as a security guard. Based on representations from Vinod and one Jega, Gobi believed those drugs were “chocolate drugs” which were used in discos that does not amount to serious controlled drugs.

Gobi was arrested at Woodlands Checkpoint when entering Singapore with drugs on 11th December 2014, and subsequently charged with importing 40.22g of diamorphine (heroin). The High Court believed his account that he did not know the bundles he was carrying contained heroin, and convicted him on a reduced charge of importing a “class C” control drug.

The Court of Appeal disagreed, and convicted Gobi of the original capital charge instead. In the absence of a certificate of substantive assistance from the Prosecution or any mental impairment at the time of the offence, the court was bound to sentence Gobi to death upon allowing the Prosecution’s appeal in October 2018.

Four months later, the Court of Appeal’s judgment in Gobi’s case was discussed in an article published in the Singapore Law Gazette. In the article, the author, a young practising lawyer, was of the opinion that, among other things, the Court of Appeal “may have set too high a threshold” by apparently laying down a general rule that, an accused person cannot rebut the presumption of knowledge by pleading that, he or she thought that the drugs were “less serious”. Parts of his arguments were, in substance, also relied upon by Gobi to argue that the Court of Appeal’s decision to convict him was “demonstrably wrong”.

A case management conference for the review application has been scheduled on Thursday (9th January).

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