Chia Charge Sheet

Three Mules, The MDP And The Mysterious Chia Choon Leng

The following was first published on the Lianain Films blog:

His name was Lee Siaw Foo. Not many people know of him. Why should they? He was just a lowly drug courier from Sabah, who in the early hours of 28 August 2009, was dragged kicking and screaming out of his cell in Changi Prison, and into the execution chamber. His crime – trafficking 38.49 grams of diamorphine, or heroin, into Singapore.

We know about Lee’s final hours only because of his friend and fellow inmate, Yong Vui Kong. The two Sabahans had known each other back in Malaysia and Yong had spent the entire night trying to convince Lee to meditate, to calm down, find some semblance of peace. That never happened. Lee faced death, a quivering, terror-stricken mess.

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Somewhere in Changi Prison, there’s an inmate called Koh Bak Kiang. Like Lee, he was a drug runner. Koh was busted on 4 April 2007, at a shopping centre in the eastern part of Singapore. Unlike Lee though, he was not sentenced to death.

Prior to Koh’s arrest, officers from the Central Narcotics Bureau found 45 packets of a white substance inside his car. Separately, they also recovered a brown envelope that Koh had delivered to a shop earlier that day. Tests concluded that the packets contained no less than 14.99 grams of diamorphine, as did the brown envelope.

14.99 grams. Such a precise number. A whisker shy of the 15 grams that under Singapore law, would automatically lead to the imposition of the Mandatory Death Penalty. Koh was instead sentenced to 25 years in prison and 24 strokes of the cane. Court documents show that he worked for a man called Chia Choon Leng and Chia’s wife, Lim Jessie.

It was also revealed that:

“The accused later came to know that Chia had also recruited 3 other persons Lee Kwee Siong, Yong Ket Wui and Lee Siaw Foo [emphasis mine] as runners.”

And that:

“…the accused had cooperated with the authorities and was willing to be a prosecution witness in the forthcoming trial against Chia.”

Chia however, was never tried. In fact, two months later, he arranged yet another delivery from Johor Bahru to Singapore. The runner, this time, was 19-year-old Yong Vui Kong. He was caught on 13 June 2007, with gift-wrapped packages containing no less than 47.27 grams of diamorphine.

During investigations, Yong named Chia as his boss but fearing for his and his family’s safety, essentially declined to testify against him in court.

Yong didn’t know it then, but Chia was also being held during this time and was facing 26 drug-related charges – five of them linked to Yong’s own case. Ultimately though, all were dropped, due to what the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) describes as “the difficulty of the evidence”. Authorities have instead detained Chia under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act. He will likely be freed in a few years.

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Three drug runners. One common link – Chia Choon Leng.

Malaysian, Lee is dead. Koh, a Singaporean, has received a caning he’ll never forget and will be in jail for a long while more. Yong is likely to hang unless Singapore’s Cabinet decides to grant him clemency.

But Chia? Why was he never charged? And what of his wife, Lim Jessie?

Not a whole lot of information is available. What we can surmise is that Chia was no small fry. He had runners he could control, and access to drugs and clients. In fact, documents provided by the AGC to Yong’s lawyer show that Chia was initially charged with abetting Yong.

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In Yong’s latest appeal to Singapore’s highest court, his lawyer, M. Ravi, questioned the AGC’s decision to slap Yong, the mule, with a capital offense while withdrawing all charges against Chia, the alleged mastermind. Ravi argued that his client’s constitutional right to equality before the law and equal protection of the law had been violated as a result.

The Court dismissed the motion, saying among other things, that it had “absolutely no merit both on the law and on the facts”. It also made clear that even if it were to agree with Yong and find that his constitutional rights had been breached, it did not have the power to set aside Yong’s conviction. Instead the AGC would have to decide what action to take in order to remedy the situation.

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The ruling means that Yong’s days could well be numbered – a decision on his clemency petition is due anytime now. It also gives us a sense of the breath and depth of the AGC’s discretionary powers. Chia has been linked to at least three cases. It remains a mystery why he has not been tried. Perhaps we will never have answers. What we do know is that at least one of Chia’s mules has been hanged. Another awaits his fate.

“Yong wants to understand,” says Ravi, “why he has to die when his boss isn’t even charged? What happens when Chia is released? Will he recruit even more mules? Vui Kong doesn’t want another kid like him to hang.”

These are pertinent concerns. After all, the MDP has often been justified as a deterrent against drug trafficking. How useful is it if mules are killed while known masterminds go free? Perhaps it is worth remembering that when the Misuse of Drugs Act was amended in 1975 to include the Mandatory Death Penalty, then-Home Affairs Minister Chua Sian Chin said, “It [the MDP] is not intended to sentence petty morphine and heroin peddlers to death.”

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