SINGAPORE: The Chief Justice on Thursday (Mar 9) dismissed an appeal by the defence for Ahmad Danial Mohamed Rafa’ee to have a murder charge withdrawn completely over the case of Ms Felicia Teo, who went missing in 2007.
The prosecution has reason to believe that an accomplice – whose evidence is crucial to the murder investigation – is in Indonesia; and contact has been made with authorities there to secure the man.
This seems to be a live lead, said Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.
Given the public interest in the case, he found that the prosecution had correctly applied for a discharge not amounting to acquittal of the murder charge against Ahmad Danial.
Defence lawyers Shashi Nathan and Laura Yeo of Withers KhattarWong had sought to have the discharge not amounting to acquittal of their client’s murder charge to be changed, to a discharge amounting to acquittal.
The difference is that in the first situation, the charge can be revived against the accused should there be fresh evidence, while this cannot happen in the latter.
The body of Ms Teo, a 19-year-old Lasalle student, had been dumped by Ahmad Danial and his alleged accomplice Mr Ragil Putra Setia Sukmarahjana.
According to Ahmad Danial, Ms Teo died after the trio consumed ecstasy in a flat. In their panic, the two men transported her body to Punggol where they buried and burnt it.
The case was treated as a missing person case and went cold after the two men allegedly lied to the police about their involvement.
It was revived in 2020 after a fresh screening of Ms Teo’s laptop showed that it had gone to Ahmad Danial’s possession.
Ahmad Danial was charged in December 2020 with the murder of Ms Teo, with common intention, together with Mr Ragil.
The prosecution later handed lesser charges to Ahmad Danial and gave him a discharge not amounting to an acquittal for the murder charge.
In October last year, he was sentenced to 26 months’ jail for charges of depositing Ms Teo’s corpse, taking her belongings as well as fabricating and giving false evidence to the police.
He had allegedly committed these offences with Mr Ragil, who remains at large.
Ahmad Danial’s lawyer Mr Nathan argued that it was not fair for an accused person to be saddled for an indefinite period with a discharge not amounting to an acquittal.
He said his client has had a cloud hanging over his head, and has not been able to move on with his life in various ways.
For example, because of the case, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority rejected Ahmad Danial’s application to have his passport renewed.
“He’s already served his sentence,” said Mr Nathan. “I’ve written to the prosecution, they have no objections to his travel. It’s another example of the hardship he’s facing now.”
He said Ahmad Danial might want to move away and start life anew, but might not be able to with this hanging over his head.
“I’m not sure if this tilts the balance in your favour or against you,” remarked the Chief Justice.
He said the discharge not amounting to an acquittal was given when three elements were fulfilled: A person has been charged, there was no clarity as to his innocence or guilt and there was some basis for thinking the person was involved.
If a discharge amounting to acquittal was given, it would mean the person was being cleared without a trial, in circumstances where there was grounds to believe the person was involved, said Chief Justice Menon.
“I think we are balancing a very heavy public interest in securing the due prosecution of potential offenders, against the freedom of the individual,” he said.
CLOUD STILL OVER HIS HEAD
The Chief Justice said that even if the prosecution had not charged Ahmad Danial in 2020, there would still be a cloud hanging over his head.
The difference is in the state putting its weight and name behind a public assertion accusing Ahmad Danial of an offence, he said.
He told Mr Nathan that one of the biggest hurdles in the case was Ahmad Danial lying during investigations in 2007.
“In some sense, your client created the problem (of the delay) or at least contributed to it,” he said.
Mr Nathan said it was his client’s position at all times that he did not cause Ms Teo’s death, but that it was a “misadventure of three people”.
He said the panic the two young men experienced – when they woke up that morning and found Ms Teo dead – caused them to dispose of her body.
When Ahmad Danial was called up for the second time in 2020, he was extremely cooperative, giving his story and taking investigators to the site in Punggol where he remembered burying the body.
Mr Nathan then questioned the prosecution’s progress on locating Mr Ragil. He said the original murder charge was with common intention, so the prosecution must have known that Mr Ragil was part of the investigations.
He said he had asked repeatedly about the prosecution’s steps to locate Mr Ragil, but was not given a reply until Thursday.
In response to queries from the Chief Justice, Deputy Public Prosecutor Yang Ziliang said evidence from Mr Ragil was necessary to enable the murder charge to be pursued against Ahmad Danial.
Mr Yang said the prosecution did not intend to proceed with the murder charge presently, based on its existing evidence.
He also said the prosecution believes Mr Ragil was now in Indonesia, and that efforts were underway to locate him and enable Singapore authorities to secure his further assistance.
Mr Nathan said the prosecution was giving “broad brush answers” on their investigations involving Mr Ragil, but the Chief Justice said he did not ask specific questions because he did not want to compromise investigations.
Mr Yang explained that in giving a discharge not amounting to acquittal for Ahmad Danial’s murder charge, the prosecution had tried to seek a balance in being fair to both Ahmad Danial and Ms Teo.
The Chief Justice ultimately dismissed Ahmad Danial’s appeal, saying the prosecution had correctly given a discharge not amounting to acquittal for his murder charge. But he noted the prosecution’s assurance that they would be keeping close watch on the case.