Capital offence. 26 charges. All dropped. Why?

The question of prosecutorial discretion, exercised by the Attorney General, has been in the news lately. For those who may not know what it is about, basically it means this: the AG has power to decide whether to charge someone involved in a crime, and what charge to administer to the person. It seems rather straightforward – but in recent times, his powers have been called into question. Or more accurately, the way the AG exercises this power is being called into question.

To delve into the legality of it would be a very technical exercise. So, I’ll spare readers this. But here’s a simple illustration:

CASE 1:

“A” – the mastermind – instigates, persuades, abets “B” to carry drugs into Singapore.

“A” and “B” are caught in Singapore.

The AG decides to charge “B” for trafficking. And because the drugs he trafficked is more than the statutory limit in law, he faces the death penalty. However, the AG decides to eventually charge him for a lesser offence. “B” is then sentenced to 25 years in prison and 24 strokes of the cane.

The AG charges “A” for the same crimes.

Later, for some reason, the AG decides to withdraw the charges against “A”.

“A” is however held under another legal provision – and is detained in jail. He may be let out of jail eventually.

CASE 2: (differences with CASE 1 highlighted in bold text):

“A” – the mastermind – instigates, persuades, abets “B” to carry drugs into Singapore.

“A” and “B” are caught in Singapore.

The AG decides to charge “B” for trafficking. And because the drugs he trafficked is more than the statutory limit in law, he faces the death penalty. He is charged accordingly and is sentenced to death. 

“A” is not charged at all for the crime of abetting “B”.

“A” is however held under another legal provision – and is detained in jail. He may be let out of jail eventually.

That’s a nutshell, a very brief nutshell, of the case brought before the court by lawyer, M Ravi, on Monday. (See the report here on publichouse.sg.)

The above scenario pertains to one Chia Choon Leng (“A”), and Koh Bak Kiang (“B” in CASE 1) and Yong Vui Kong (“B” in CASE 2).

The common link is Chia – he was involved in both the separate trafficking cases, one involving Koh and the other involving Yong.

The two crimes were committed 2 months apart in 2007.

Yong is arguing that the AG has acted in a discriminatory manner towards him – preferring to charge Yong with a capital offence, while not charging Chia at all.

In court, it was revealed that the AG had initially filed 26 charges against Chia – but all 26 charges were withdrawn later by the AG.

The questions:

How is it possible for the AG to not proceed with charging Chia at all?

Does the AG’s power of prosecutorial discretion mean he can, effectively, do as he likes, without being questioned about his decisions? This question was raised in another case a few months ago – in Ramalingam vs Attorney General. (See here.)

Why was Chia not charged, even though he was involved in 2 separate offences – 2 months apart – in 2007?

Why was he not charged when the judge himself (during the Koh trial) said “the accused [Koh] had cooperated with the authorities and was willing to be a prosecution witness in the forthcoming trial against Chia.” The judge also said that Chia was part of ‘an organised group that carefully planned and coordinated drug trafficking activities involving diamorphine and other drugs.

In addition, the prosecution itself had submitted to the court that  Chia had “handed a brown envelope containing the diamorphine to the accused [Koh] at the vicinity of Serangoon Central…

Evidently, the police had investigated and had evidence of Chia’s involvement – otherwise the prosecution would not have submitted to the court that Chia had “handed a brown envelope containing the diamorphine to the accused [Koh] at the vicinity of Serangoon Central…

As such, it is perplexing that Chia – with a known record of trafficking in at least two separate cases – is not being charged like Koh and Yong, in spite of the evidence the police has of his activities.

How is it possible that all 26 charges against him were withdrawn?

M Ravi is appealing for the court to set aside Yong’s death sentence in light of all these – which shows, he contends, that the AG had exercised his prosecutorial discretion arbitrarily.

It is a case which the court will decide shortly.

It is also quite clear to me, even after reading the AG submissions in response to M Ravi’s submissions, that the AG clearly owes the court and the public an explanation.

The issue here, therefore, is whether the courts have the power to adjudicate how the AG uses his prosecutorial discretion powers.

Following the appeal in the Ramalingam case, the AG assured the public that his powers are exercised “carefully”. (See here and here.)

Verbal assurances are one thing. It is quite another for the public to be shown that in practice, it is so.

In this current case, however, it is not convincing that the AG had exercised his powers “carefully”.

The questions remain:

Why were all 26 charges against the alleged mastermind of a drug trafficking ring withdrawn, in spite of the evidence against him?

And why were the severest charges levelled against the runners he abetted instead?

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6 responses to “Capital offence. 26 charges. All dropped. Why?”

  1. Nice try Buddy says :

    I always thought selective persecution only applied to politically linked cases. I’m surprised that’s it’s across the board. Now I can better understand the comments by the late JBJ In 1963, of being “disillusioned” with the judiciary. JBJ was a rising star in the legal sector and was the chief of the Subordinate Judiciary by the age of mid-thirties but resigned after the PAP came to power.

  2. Speechless says :

    It is not even a first-world law by such scenarios. One country two systems is indeed real. I am very very dissappointed.

  3. Nice try Buddy says :

    I have just come across the statement by the former AG, present CJ on not proceeding with the JBJ complaint of violation of the polling act by some Ministers. Perhaps it might be technically correct but I am dumbstruck by the logic. Below is the relevant parts of it, you be the judge.

    7. Section 82 (1)(d) provides that – “No person shall wait outside any polling station on polling day, except for the purpose of gaining entry to the polling station to cast his vote”.

    8. Plainly, persons found waiting inside the polling stations do not come within the ambit of this section. Similarly, those who enter or have entered the polling station cannot be said to be waiting outside it. Only those who wait outside the polling station commit an offence under this section unless they are waiting to enter the polling station to cast their votes

    9. Section 82 (1)(e) provides that -

    “No person shall loiter in any street or public place within a radius of 200 metres of any polling station on polling day.”

    10. The relevant question is whether any person who is inside a polling station can be sad to be “within a radius of 200 metres of any polling station”. The answer to this question will also answer any question on loitering inside a polling station.

    11. Plainly, a person inside a polling station cannot be said to be within a radius of 200 metres of a polling station. A polling station must have adequate space for the voting to be carried out. Any space has a perimeter. The words “within a radius of 200 metres” ‘ therefore mean “200 metres from the perimeter of” any polling station. This point is illustrated in the diagrams in the Appendix. (Editor’s note: Diagrams not available).

    Perhaps I am just daft like 61% of Singaporeans, who associate white with honestly and integrity

  4. Saycheese says :

    @Nice try Buddy
    “…I have just come across the statement by the former AG, present CJ on not proceeding with the JBJ complaint of violation of the polling act by some Ministers. Perhaps it might be technically correct but I am dumbstruck by the logic…”

    The AG definitely exercised his powers “carefully”. If Chia is tried, perhaps he will implicate others in his organised group that must never be convicted?

  5. Hybrid says :

    It should be commonsensical that charging the mules has less deterrent effect than going after the mastermind. Mules are also aplenty and a mastermind can have several kar-gias at any one time.

    So what are the real reasons why SG prosecutors want to hang mules?

    Because proving the case against mules is much easier (after all they are caught red handed)? Ie take the easy peasy lazy way out.

    Because masterminds may point all the way up to some drug lords (eg those sitting comfy in Burma) and the government doesn’t dare to touch?

    I don’t know the answer. But I do know my sense of justice is assaulted by these case examples.

  6. Nice try Buddy says :

    Interestingly I heard that the other weapon in addition to “defamation” successfully used by the MIW is legal cost. Since they are very certain that they will win their cases and will be awarded legal cost, they ensure they have a huge legal team and that the cases are all filed individually so that legal cost piles up. Can anyone verify this?

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