Baggage handlers acquitted of theft on appeal

Two baggage handlers convicted of stealing gold jewellery from passengers' bags were acquitted on appeal as the High Court found the evidence against them to be inadequate and unreliable.

Judicial Commissioner See Kee Oon ruled that the trial judge had placed undue weight on the testimony of a key witness, Selvakumar, who had implicated both men, as well as the evidence from the complainants that the jewellery seized from a pawnshop was indeed theirs.

These were crucial aspects of the prosecution's case but the evidence "in these respects is unreliable and inadequate to support the trial judge's findings", he added in judgment grounds last week.

Mr Nagas Arumugam, 57, had been jailed for eight months, and Mr Geyabalan K. Ramiah, 56, for six. Both were out on bail.

They were convicted last year of four counts of theft, each involving some $9,500 worth of jewellery. Two accomplices, including Selvakumar, pleaded guilty and were jailed last year for between nine and 11 weeks.

Mr Nagas skippered a team of five baggage handlers in the Budget Terminal at Changi Airport.

The items were reported missing by tourists travelling on Tiger Airways flights between Singapore and India in 2010 and 2011.

Following a probe, police seized jewellery from a pawnshop which had been pawned in Mr Nagas' name, some of which were claimed by the passengers to be the missing items.

Both men appealed against their convictions in a district court.

Lawyer K. Mahthialahan argued there was no evidence to show that his client, Mr Geyabalan, had removed jewellery from the bags on the dates specified in the charges or that he was linked to the pawning of the jewellery.

Lawyer Subhas Anandan added, for Mr Nagas, that the evidence of the key witness contained discrepancies and the trial judge erred in relying on the testimony of the complainants.

He pointed to the possibility that the items identified by the complainants were simply similar to those owned by Mr Nagas, whose explanation for his conduct in relation to the pawning of the jewellery - he had pawned jewellery for years - had been rejected by the trial judge.

JC See found that the complainants had acknowledged the jewellery identified by them from the pawnshop was not custom-made and did not have any special distinguishing feature. It was therefore "difficult" to say they were the same items that they had lost, he noted.

Mr Geyabalan, currently a contract worker, said yesterday through his lawyer that he had been " traumatised" by the entire experience and hoped to get his job back some day.

This article was first published on September 9, 2014.
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