SINGAPORE - He may have been issued a "strong bargaining chip", but Yong Vui Kong has not been spared the death penalty yet, said lawyers.
While he has received a certificate of substantive assistance - for assisting the authorities "in disrupting drug trafficking within and outside Singapore" - the final decision still lies with the judge, said criminal lawyer Rajan Supramaniam.
"He could still be given the death penalty. But the certificate indicates he has revealed substantial information on how the syndicate works and has helped with identification," he said.
Yong and Subrashkaran Pragasam, 29, who was sentenced to death in October last year for possession of heroin, are also the first two to receive such certificates under the amended Misuse of Drugs Act.
Judges now have discretion in sentencing for drug trafficking cases, which carried a mandatory death penalty before November last year.
"Now there's a merit consideration as part of the plea bargaining," said Mr Supramaniam.
This is a significant development in the legal system, said Mr Luke Lee, a criminal lawyer with 23 years of practice.
"It will encourage offenders to cooperate in giving vital information to the authorities, as they now have something to look forward to. It's definitely a huge plus to drug enforcement," he said.
As for the possible avoidance of the death penalty for Yong, it's a step forward, said Ms Braema Mathi, president of the human rights association Maruah.
"It doesn't mean that offenders should not be put to the task. But the police and prosecution should be the most important, not the harshness of the law. Hopefully, bit by bit, we can completely review the death penalty," she said.
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