Death penalty for S'porean who claimed he thought he was safekeeping 'cannabis' for man he met once

Selina Lum
The Straits Times
Oct 27, 2022

A 31-year-old man who was found with 25 packets of heroin in his bedroom in November 2018 was given the mandatory death penalty on Thursday for drug trafficking.

Shen Hanjie, a Singaporean, was charged with trafficking more than 2.65kg of a granular and powdery substance that was found to contain 34.94g of pure heroin after analysis. The law provides for the death penalty if the amount of heroin trafficked exceeds 15g.

During his trial in 2021, Shen claimed at first that he thought the drugs were cannabis and that he was merely safekeeping them for an acquaintance named “Alan” whom he had met only once in person.

In May this year, High Court judge Dedar Singh Gill convicted Shen, rejecting his claim that he believed that the packets contained cannabis.

In his statements to investigators after his arrest, Shen contended that he never opened the packets, never looked at the drugs, never asked Alan what was inside, and knew nothing about the specific nature of their contents.

But this position evolved during his trial, when Shen claimed he had looked at the drugs and asked Alan what they were, to which Alan replied they were “ganja” – a common name for cannabis.

“This marked shift in the accused’s evidence and the absence of any credible explanation for this change show the accused’s lack of credit and renders his belated assertion at trial unbelievable,” said Justice Gill.

The judge similarly rejected the safekeeping defence, which he said was “inherently unbelievable”. Shen had consistently admitted in his statements that Alan sent drugs to him so that he could deliver them to others. Two notebooks found in Shen’s room also contained names of 18 people to whom he had previously passed drugs.

Justice Gill noted that on Shen’s own testimony, Alan had called him out of the blue six months after their first and only meeting to ask if he could keep his things at the accused’s place.

“What is baffling is that even after the accused found out that Alan had been sending him illicit drugs for storage, the accused continued to ‘help’ Alan, someone whom he barely knew, keep drugs... without any protest and for no payment, notwithstanding that he was facing substantial financial difficulties,” said the judge.

He noted that Shen, who was unemployed at the time of his arrest, had to fund his daily consumption of Ice as well as his gambling habit.

Shen stopped helping out at his father’s coffee shop two years ago and had no other source of income apart from the allowance his parents gave him when he needed money. His financial woes even led him to pawn his and his parents’ items.

The judge found that the prosecution had proven beyond reasonable doubt that Shen had the drugs in his possession for the purposes of trafficking.

On Thursday, giving his decision on the sentence, Justice Gill said Shen did not qualify for life imprisonment, which is available to drug couriers who meet specific requirements.

The judge found that Shen was not a mere courier; neither was he certified by the prosecution to have substantively assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau in disrupting drug trafficking, nor suffering from a mental disorder or intellectual disability that impaired his responsibility for his acts.

The Straits Times

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