38-year-old Malaysian Beh Chew Boo was remanded for nearly four years, of which nine months were spent on death row, since the day he was arrested when entering Singapore from Malaysia and accused of importing methamphetamine.
On Tuesday (13th October) morning, the Court of Appeal – comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang and Judge of Appeal Steven Chong – acquitted him of this charge after one month of deliberation, which meant that he would no longer face the death penalty.
Beh continues to be held in remand as the Prosecution had been given three days to study the written judgment and inform the court of its intention concerning four other drug charges which had been stood down against him at trial, though it was unlikely those charges could be proceeded against him as they “arose out of the same factual matrix”, as Deputy Public Prosecutor Mark Jayaratnam informed the court at the judgment hearing conducted over Zoom.
CJ Menon has urged the Prosecution to look into the matter “with expedition”, as Beh’s lawyer, Mr Wong Siew Hong, prayed for Beh to be released from custody as soon as possible such that he could return to his homeland. After the judges left the Zoom hearing, Beh can be seen raising his handcuffed fists with full of rejoice.
Beh was arrested at Woodlands Checkpoint on 26th October 2016 together with one Ting Swee Ling, his then-girlfriend, while riding on a motorcycle belonging to his friend and ex-colleague, one Lew Shyang Huei, who was arrested six months later for unrelated drug offences and serving a seven-year imprisonment term. The compartment beneath the motorcycle seat was examined and four bundles were found inside, containing not less than 499.97g of methamphetamine. The bundles also had Lew’s DNA found on them but not those of Beh’s.
At trial, the Prosecution’s case against Beh was that he was acting as a knowing courier for Lew. Beh’s defence was that he had borrowed Lew’s motorcycle as his own had broken down and that he had entered Singapore for other legitimate reasons, such as returning a power bank to his friend, to discuss with the same friend about an upcoming job and introduce two parties to him for this purpose, and to spend the day with Ting. He maintained throughout that he did not know that there were drugs hidden in the compartment beneath the motorcycle’s seat.
Justice Kannan Ramesh rejected Beh’s defences and convicted him of the drug importation charge in January this year. Beh was sentenced to death as he did not have a certificate of substantive assistance from the Prosecution. The Court of Appeal heard Beh’s appeal in September this year and reserved judgment.
In their written judgment, the court expressed their agreement with Justice Ramesh that two of Beh’s reasons for entering Singapore, which concerned the upcoming job, was incredible as they were not raised in Beh’s statements and only surfaced at trial for the first time.
On the other hand, Beh’s account of spending time with his girlfriend was supported by the fact that they entered Singapore together and their relationship not being in dispute; while his claim of returning a power bank was supported by a power bank found in the storage compartment of the motorcycle.
“[We] accept that a person may have several reasons for travelling to Singapore, some legitimate and some unlawful, and that such reasons are not necessarily mutually exclusive,” wrote Justice Tay on behalf of the court.
The court also noted the unique features in Beh’s case which makes his defence “not inherently incredible”; such as the motorcycle being registered under Lew’s name and the drugs having Lew’s DNA on them, suggesting that Lew was the person who repacked the drugs. Beh had also asked the officers to follow up with Lew when he could not have known that the drug bundles only had Lew’s DNA on them.
The burden thus shifted to the Prosecution to call Lew as their witness to rebut Beh’s defence, and for not having done so, the court described it as “unsatisfactory” as “the parties and the court were left to deal with the hypotheses by logical reasoning and inferences instead of considering direct evidence from Lew”.
While Mr Jayaratnam had argued that Lew had denied involvement in his statements,, Justice Tay pointed out that it could be refuted immediately by the objective evidence of the presence of his (Lew) DNA in them, and further, that the presumption of possession also applies to Lew as the owner of the motorcycle.
The court also made an observation on Justice Ramesh’s ruling on the defence’s objections to the Prosecution’s cross-examination in respect of certain text messages, even before the Prosecution started asking Beh questions at trial; they were of the view that such objections should be ruled on during cross-examination itself as it may “incur the risk of shutting out evidence that may turn out to be highly relevant”.