Drug smuggler jailed 20 years

A 40-year-old South African who was promised $2,400 to collect a suitcase of money in Singapore but ended up being nabbed for smuggling drugs into the country was yesterday jailed 20 years and given 15 strokes of the cane.

Hermanus Nicolaas Pienaar was caught in October 2012 after his suspicious behaviour, as he was exiting the arrival hall, alerted Central Narcotics Bureau officers.

Scans revealed items hidden under the lining of his suitcase, later found to be two black plastic bags containing 1.9kg of methamphetamine, better known as Ice. The amount exceeded the 250g death-penalty threshold for the drug.

But the prosecution later reduced the initial capital charge to one of trafficking in not less than 249.99g of Ice, which carries a minimum 20-year jail term and 15 strokes of the cane.

No reason was given for the decision.

The unemployed Pienaar, who pleaded guilty, was told he would be paid 20,000 South African rand (S$2,400) by a Nigerian man he met in Johannesburg, if he travelled to Singapore to collect a suitcase of money from someone here.

But just before his flight to Singapore, another Nigerian man handed him a suitcase and packed clothing and toiletries into it.

Pienaar admitted he strongly suspected that there were drugs in the suitcase - he knew drugs were being smuggled out of South Africa and that Nigerians were involved in drug trafficking.

He also found it suspicious that he was being offered a large sum of money for a seemingly simple task.

Still, he admitted to failing to check if the suitcase contained drugs.

His lawyer, Mr Low Cheong Yeow, urged the High Court to impose the minimum sentence, arguing that his client was suffering from depression at the time - stemming from tragic personal circumstances - which allowed him to be preyed on by a drug syndicate.

Pienaar, who was separated from his second wife, was in financial difficulty, alcoholic and depressed over the deaths of his younger brother and father, who committed suicide within two years of each other.

His lawyer said his client was "wilfully blind" for not checking his lugguage but it was not an overt act of trafficking, noting that given how the events unfolded, Pienaar did not have time to inspect the suitcase before he boarded the plane.


This article was first published on Oct 29, 2014.
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