Drug Trafficking Landmark Court Case in Singapore


21 December 2020

Prominent and High-Profile Court Case in 2020

1. Acquittal of a Capital Charge Offence After a Nine-Year Legal Battle

In September 2020, our senior criminal lawyer, Eugene Thuraisingam, and his team of lawyers at Eugene Thuraisingam LLP, Suang Wijaya, and Johannes Hadi, and Jerrie Tan of K&L Gates Straits Law LLC, secured an acquittal for Mr Ilechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudi, before a five-judge Court of Appeal by a majority of 4-1.

2. The twists in this landmark case

The Court of Appeal reversed its own decision in 2015 to convict Ilechukwu, and acquitted him of the capital charge of drug trafficking. In llechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudi v Public Prosecutor [2017] SGCA 44, the Court ruled that its past judgment was “demonstrably wrong, after the legal team relied on fresh evidence that Ilechukwu was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), when he was giving his statements to the Central Bureau Narcotics Officers in 2011.

3. Comments in The Straits Times

Eugene was approached by the Straits Times for his comments on Ilechukwu’s acquittal:

This was a case of many firsts, with many ups and downs. It was also the first time in Singapore’s history where the Court of Appeal re-opened a concluded criminal appeal to re-examine the case and rendered an acquittal.

Ilechukwu was arrested in 2011 on suspicion of trafficking drugs into Singapore. Naturally, when we first obtained his acquittal before the High Court in 2015, we were ecstatic.

This turned quickly to disappointment when the Prosecution appealed to the Court of Appeal, which overturned the acquittal, convicted Ilechukwu, and sent the case back to the High Court for sentencing. In the Court of Appeal’s view at that time, there were many lies in Ilechukwu’s contemporaneous police statements which were suggestive of his guilt rather than innocence.

At the further evidential hearing, the legal team relied on medical evidence to establish that Ilechukwu had suffered PTSD as a result of witnessing a brutal tribal massacre during his childhood, and suggested that this may provide an innocent explanation for the lies in his police statements:

This gave our client a providential lifeline. In light of this new, potentially exonerative medical evidence, we asked the Court of Appeal to reconsider and set aside its previous conviction of Ilechukwu.

In concluding his comments, Eugene said:

When I first interviewed Ilechukwu in prison, he could barely speak any English. After his release from prison, over a small, celebratory meal before his flight home to Nigeria, I was amused to detect what sounded like a slight Singlish accent when he spoke. Having fought alongside him through all the ups and downs, this case is one for the books and will always have a special place in my heart.

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