SINGAPORE — A 37-year-old Filipino maid who helped her Singaporean boyfriend traffic cannabis has been sentenced to 25 years’ jail by a district court.
Sherryl Versoza Dela Cruz received the sentence last Tuesday (11 August) after she pleaded guilty at the State Courts to one charge of trafficking in a Class A controlled drug by having in her possession 35 blocks containing not less than 463.92g of cannabis on 28 March 2017.
She is appealing against the sentence imposed by District Judge Christopher Goh and the grounds of his decision were made available online on Wednesday (19 August).
In his grounds, the judge noted that based on the weight of cannabis involved, the sentencing range to be imposed ought to be between 26 and 29 years’ jail.
In meting out the sentence imposed, he took into account her plea of guilt and cooperation with the authorities, along with the fact that she cannot be caned due to her gender. The offence would have attracted a mandatory minimum of 15 strokes of the cane.
The judge backdated the jail term to begin from the date of her remand on 30 March 2017. Sherryl is currently serving her sentence while waiting for her appeal to be heard.
Got to know boyfriend in 2010
Sherryl met her boyfriend Ramendra Krishnan in 2010 when she first came to work in Singapore as a domestic helper. They entered a romantic relationship shortly after but broke up in 2012 after she returned to the Philippines.
In 2013, Sherryl returned to Singapore to work as a maid. She contacted Ramendra and they kept in touch. They began dating again in 2016.
Although she worked as a maid, Sherryl’s employer allowed her to live in her own residence – a rented room in an Ang Mo Kio HDB flat. Ramendra eventually moved in with Sherryl.
She was aware that he was involved in selling cannabis and allowed him to keep the drug in their room. He would re-pack the blocks of cannabis in her presence there. She would also receive money from him, which she knew was his profits from selling cannabis.
Sherryl also helped her boyfriend to traffick drugs. Once, she delivered payment from Ramendra to a runner of his drug supplier. She also helped deliver cannabis to her boyfriend’s customers on a few occasions.
Nabbed during CNB raid
Officers from the Central Narcotics Bureau received intelligence that Ramendra would be collecting a consignment of drugs from an unknown individual on 28 March 2017.
Acting on the lead, undercover officers stationed themselves near Marsiling MRT station that afternoon. At about 6.35pm, a man seated at a nearby bus stop was seen walking towards a taxi stand. He was later identified as Lavinder Shanmuganathan.
Ramendra and Sherryl then alighted from a taxi. The trio then boarded another taxi, which was tailed by anti-narcotics officers.
The taxi travelled along Woodlands Avenue 3 towards Causeway Point, before making a U-turn at the junction of Woodlands Avenue 5. It stopped in front of Block 345 Woodlands Street 32, where Lavinder alighted and proceeded on foot towards Marsiling MRT station. He was later arrested.
Officers continued to tail the taxi in which Ramendra and Sherryl were travelling. At about 7pm, the taxi stopped along Upper Neram Road. Ramendra alighted carrying a backpack and ran towards a canal. He threw the backpack into the canal and continued running. Officers arrested him shortly after. They retrieved the backpack and found drugs inside.
Sherryl was arrested in the taxi.
The couple were brought back to their flat at about 10.15pm and officers found cannabis stored in a box under a dressing table.
Deputy Public Prosecutors Sia Jiazheng and Benedict Chan sought at least 26 years’ jail. They noted that although Sherryl helped Ramendra in his drug trafficking activities, she had acted under his directions.
They also pointed out that the drugs were kept in the same room she shared with him and took into account that she had cooperated fully with the authorities.
Meanwhile, defence lawyers Sashi Nathan, Jeremy Pereira and J Jayaletchmi argued for a jail term of between 21 to 22 years. They said Sherryl’s involvement in Ramendra’s drug trafficking operation was small and that she was doing it as his girlfriend, as a way of demonstrating her misguided love for him, rather than as his associate.
She was also not involved in the packing or re-packing of drugs. And she did not directly profit from the drug activities, the lawyers said, although they conceded that she might have indirectly benefitted when her boyfriend paid their rent or gave her money using his ill-gotten cash.
The lawyers added that Sherryl feared being reported to the authorities as she was allowed to live on her own and work additional jobs on her own time under an illegal arrangement, and was worried about getting her employer into trouble.
‘No babe in the woods’
District Judge Goh said in his grounds, “As highlighted by the prosecution, her involvement in Ramendra’s drug operations involved the occasional delivery of cannabis to others and, on one occasion, had even made payment to the runner of Ramendra’s drug supplier on his behalf.
“She knew that the monies that she received from him, be it to help out in the payment of the rent or for food and groceries, were from the profits that he made in selling cannabis. In my view, she was more involved in Ramendra’s drug activities than how the defence has sought to characterise it, even if she was assisting him purely in her capacity as his girlfriend.”
The judge also noted that Sherryl feared being reported to the Ministry of Manpower for contravening the conditions of her work permit. But he disagreed with the defence’s characterisation of her actions as being one of youthful folly or that she was simple-minded and trusting.
“The accused is no youthful offender. She is 37 years old and had worked in Singapore previously. Despite being described as simple-minded, she was nonetheless able to make the necessary arrangements to obtain the full benefit of her stay in Singapore by working in places outside what was stated in her work permit to earn a larger income.
“Whilst she may have been trusting of Ramendra, being his girlfriend, she was no ‘babe in the woods’,” the judge added.
Accomplice was looking for job
For her crime, Sherryl could have been jailed for up to 30 years.
Ramendra, who is now 56, is scheduled to face trial at the High Court next year for drug trafficking.
Meanwhile, Lavinder, 29, a Malaysian, was sentenced to 13 years’ jail along with 10 strokes of the cane in June after he pleaded guilty at the High Court to trafficking five blocks containing not less than 329.99g of cannabis.
Investigations revealed that the Johor resident was seeking a job in Singapore and had approached an acquaintance “Karthik”, who passed him the five blocks of cannabis to pass to an “uncle” at Marsiling MRT station on 28 March 2017. The acquaintance told him that the “uncle” would help him find a job.
Lavinder borrowed a car from a friend and drove to Singapore with the drugs in a backpack. He parked the car along the road near a bus stop outside Marsiling MRT station and walked to the bus stop before calling Karthik, who told him to walk to the nearby taxi stand to meet the “uncle”. He then met Ramendra and Sherryl and boarded the taxi with them.
Inside the cab, Lavinder took the drugs from his backpack and passed them to Ramendra, who placed them inside his own backpack.
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