S'porean charged with drug smuggling in Indonesia

Abdul Wahab Mohamed Tahir being escorted by Customs officers at Surabaya's Juanda airport.

INDONESIA - A singaporean former relief worker, Abdul Wahab Mohamed Tahir, 64, has been charged with drug smuggling in a Surabaya court and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Abdul Wahab was a senior manager for international programmes with humanitarian charity Mercy Relief at the time of his arrest at Surabaya's Juanda airport in late April with 6.6kg of shabu, or crystal meth, in his luggage.

A former assistant superintendent of prisons in Singapore, he joined Mercy Relief in June 2010 and resigned on May 1, when the organisation was notified of his detention.

Police said Abdul Wahab had landed on a SilkAir flight from Singapore, where he transited on a flight from New Delhi.

The drugs were estimated to have a street value of 13.2 billion rupiah (S$1.6 million), and were discovered in packets of aluminium foil in his suitcase and a backpack by Customs officials as they were X-rayed and attracted the attention of sniffer dogs.

Public prosecutor Bambang Sunardi said the accused faced the death penalty under tougher laws introduced in 2009 because the narcotics found on him exceeded 5kg, a statement on the Attorney-General's Office website said on Tuesday.

He was also charged with possession of class 1 drugs, an offence which carries up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to eight million rupiah.

The haul is one of the largest in East Java in recent years, and comes as the authorities are on the lookout for global trafficking syndicates targeting a market of some four million drug abusers in the country of 252 million.

But Abdul Wahab's lawyer, Ms Selfin Laka, told The Straits Times on Wednesday that he did not know the bag contained drugs, adding that a friend had asked him to carry them and told him they contained women's underclothes.

Local media reported Abdul Wahab telling the court that a man named Abu Bakar had asked him to carry the bag to Surabaya, where someone would collect it from him.

News of Abdul Wahab's case shocked former colleagues and those who knew him. The Straits Times understands that he worked in the prisons service from 1971 to 1994, and had a clean record.

Retired senior prisons officer Fazal Rahman, 66, told The Straits Times: "He was a devout, spiritual man and had a good track record when in service."

Mercy Relief's chairman, Mr Michael Tay, said: "At no point in his employment was there any indication of Abdul Wahab's involvement in drug-related or other illegal activity."

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