S'porean gets life term for smuggling shabu

JAKARTA - A Singaporean who was once a relief worker and prisons assistant superintendent has been sentenced to life in prison for drug smuggling by a Surabaya court.

Abdul Wahab Mohamed Tahir, 64, could have faced the death penalty; his sentence was higher than the 18 years prosecutors had sought.

"The accused has been legally and convincingly proven to have imported narcotic shabu-shabu weighing more than 5g," said presiding judge Achmad Fauzi, referring to the threshold for applying the maximum sentence.

"He and his lawyers were not able to prove that he was a victim of the drug trade," he said.

"An aggravating factor is that the act could damage society and destroy the younger generation. A mitigating factor is that he has never been convicted in court."

Abdul Wahab was a former senior manager with Singapore-based humanitarian charity Mercy Relief, and a former assistant superintendent of prisons in Singapore.

He was arrested at Surabaya's Juanda airport in late April with 6.5kg of shabu-shabu, or crystal meth, in his luggage. He had been working for the NGO since June 2010 and regularly travelled to Indonesia. He tendered his resignation on May 1.

The haul was 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 250 million.

The United Nations office on drugs and crime recently reported that seizures of methamphetamine reached record highs in East and South-east Asia last year, and that transnational organised criminal groups continue to diversify their approach.

News of Abdul Wahab's case had shocked former colleagues and those who knew him. He had worked in the prisons service from 1971 to 1994, and had a clean record. During the hearings, which began in August, the court heard that 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$1.45 million) and were discovered in packets of aluminium foil in his suitcase and a backpack by Customs officials.

Abdul Wahab was also fined 5 billion rupiah.

His lawyer Oktavianto told reporters they might appeal against the verdict. "A life sentence is too heavy for my client because he is already quite old," he added.

While on trial, Abdul Wahab maintained that the drugs were not his, but that a friend in India had asked him to carry the bags.

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