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Singapore’s court acquits Nigerian of drug trafficking after nine years in detention

THE Court of Appeal in Singapore on Thursday discharged and acquitted Ilechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudia, a Nigerian on death row for drug trafficking, after nearly a decade since he was arrested.

In a long-running legal tussle, the Singaporean court reversed its decision declaring Chukwudi not guilty, five years after the same court had convicted him.

Four out of five justices in a split decision on the case voted that Ilechukwu did not know there were drugs in the bag, as their findings show that he had been “deceived” unwittingly into transporting drugs.

“The picture that emerged from the evidence showed that he had grossly misjudged his childhood friend and acquaintance, naively believing that he was doing a simple favour in return for promised business contacts.

“Ignorantly, he had been deceived into transporting drugs on their behalf to (their) contact in Singapore,” the statement of the judges read.

In November 2011, Ilechukwu was charged with trafficking about 2kg of methamphetamine which was found in a black trolley bag he brought with him from Nigeria into Singapore.

He had collected the luggage at the airport in Nigeria, found only clothes in it. The luggage passed several immigration checks in both countries until he was handed the bag to a Singaporean stall assistant named Hamidah Awang at a Clarke Quay bus stop.

Hamidah’s car was then searched at Woodlands Checkpoint in River Valley Road, Singapore, and drugs were discovered in the luggage.

Drug trafficking in Singapore is punishable by death.

Ilechukwu had been acquitted after a trial in the High Court in 2014 but the appellate court reversed that decision in 2015 and found him guilty of drug trafficking.

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His lawyers, Eugene Thuraisingam, Suang Wijaya and  Johannes Hadi from Eugene Thuraisingam LLP, as well as Jerrie Tan from K&L Gates Straits Law, had argued for the decision to be reviewed.

During the sentencing stage, they provided “material evidence” showing that Ilechukwu was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, with dissociative symptoms.

In August 2017, the Court of Appeal then ordered a review of the case in light of the fresh evidence, given by the psychiatrist who was a prosecution witness.

At the review, the court upheld their submissions and found that Ilechukwu experienced PTSD symptoms while giving statements to authorities.

Ilechukwu’s acquittal is the second time in two years that a Nigerian citizen has won a drugs-related case in Singapore.

In May 2019, Adili Chibuike Ejike, who had been sentenced to hang for importing almost 2kg of methamphetamine, was cleared by the Court of Appeal. Adili had similarly been arrested in 2011 in a related case.

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