The Singapore Government has rejected fresh pleas to spare the life of an Australian drug trafficker on death row. Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo has written to Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and his Labor counterpart Kevin Rudd reinforcing a decision not to grant clemency to Van Tuong Nguyen.
The 25-year-old Melbourne salesman was caught with 396 grams of heroin strapped to his body and in his hand luggage at Changi airport in 2002.
The Singapore Government last month rejected a plea for clemency, but Australia has continued to push to save Nguyen's life.
Nguyen now faces execution within the next four weeks, with his parents to be given two weeks' notice. In his letter released today, Mr Yeo said he had received Australia's pleas with a "heavy heart." "I fully understand why the family of Mr Nguyen Tuong Van and many Australians must find it hard to accept the President's decision not to grant clemency," he said.
"I can only say this: in advising the President, the cabinet carefully considered all relevant factors of Mr Nguyen's case including his sad personal circumstances and his value as a potential source of information.
"However, due to the seriousness of the offence and the need to hold firm our national position against drug trafficking, we are unable to change our decision. "It was not a decision taken lightly."
Mr Yeo said he was aware of pleas by Australian MPs and a motion passed by Federal Parliament, but his country took a firm stand on drugs. He said Nguyen's shipment would have supplied more than 26,000 doses of heroin to drug addicts. "We, on our part in Singapore, have a responsibility to protect the people of Singapore from the scourge of drug addiction, which has destroyed many lives and inflicted great suffering on many families," he said.
"We also have a responsibility to prevent Singapore from becoming a conduit for the trafficking of illicit drugs in the region." Mr Downer said he had written to Mr Yeo on October 25 arguing that Nguyen could be a crucial witness in any future prosecution of drug traffickers.
He said he had spoken to Nguyen's lawyer Lex Lasry, QC, and the Australian Federal Police to see whether the government could get better clarity on the sort of evidence Nguyen could provide in future cases in Australia.
"We are looking at that and that really is our last hope that we can find some legal basis on which to appeal yet again to the Singapore Government," he said.
But he said while the Government would leave no stone unturned, he was very pessimistic about the case. Mr Lasry said the decision was disappointing, but other avenues were still available to pursue. "There are some other things to be responded to by the Singapore government, and we will continue to put the case that they should change their mind," he said.
Mr Lasry has argued that his client's co-operation with police and remorse should have been counted when his clemency application was considered. Nguyen's family was also today coping with the news the Queen would not intervene in his case. I.L.