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Former henchman points fingers at drug cartel
Former Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj is expected meet this week with lawyers for his brother, Krishna Maharaj, in Miami following reports that new evidence given by a former Columbian drug baron could possibly overturn his double murder conviction.
After spending 27 years in a Florida penitentiary, Krishna Maharaj, a 74-year-old British citizen, could walk free after being sentenced to death for the murder of his Jamaican business partner Derrick Moo Young and his 23-year-old son Duane. Moo Young, 55, was shot six times while Duane was shot once in the face at the Miami Dupont Plaza Hotel on October 16, 1988.
In his final appeal next month, Maharaj’s lawyers plan to present a sworn statement from El Asistente, a former henchman of late drug kingpin Pablo Escabar, which implicates the Medellin Cartel in the Moo Youngs’ murder.
In an interview yesterday, Maharaj said although he does not have all the details of this new evidence, his family was happy to hear that Krishna might be freed. Maharaj, who is vacationing with his son in the Cayman Islands, said he will be flying out to Miami today where he will meet Krishna’s lawyer to discuss the final appeal hearing.
“Kris has always maintained that he was innocent and it's because of his poor legal representation at the trial he was convicted. There have been a lot of people from England and America who have claimed that he was innocent. I have spoken to his lawyers and they have always maintained that one day he will be free because of the evidence which they are investigating to show that he did not commit those crimes.
“It has been a long legal battle but I was very happy when I heard that there has been not only a witness, but even the police investigators have given evidence to show that he is not guilty.” The United Kingdon’s Daily Mail reported yesterday that El Asistente’s statement gave specific details of the murders, saying it was a professional hit on the Moo Youngs who were laundering money from drug cartels. He named Medellin assassin Guillermo “Cuchilla” Zuluaga as the murderer.
Part of El Asistente statement said: “I am giving this because I have reconnected with my religious faith. The idea that Krishna Maharaj has served more than a quarter-century in prison for a crime I know he did not commit appalls me. I want to set the record straight and ensure he gets justice.” Next month’s hearing is Maharaj’s final chance to appeal. His original death sentence was overturned at an earlier appeal in 2003. About to turn 75, his earliest possible release date is currently 2040.
The Daily Mail also reported that several former police officers have been providing evidence that their corrupt colleagues had “fabricated the case against Maharaj to hide the cartels’ involvement”.
Just months after Clive Stafford Smith, of the human rights charity Reprieve, became Maharaj’s lawyer in 1994 he discovered crucial documents which had been hidden all along in police files. They revealed that at the time of their deaths, the Moo Youngs were negotiating to buy a Panamanian bank for £400 million and were involved in bond deals worth £3 billion.
Analysis of their financial records by accountants Ernst & Young states the Moo Youngs’ real business was money-laundering—on a mind-boggling scale. But rich as they were, the analysis says, they were also greedy, skimming an extra one per cent from every deal they did for their cartel clients.
That appeared to be a much more plausible reason for the murders than Maharaj’s missing £300,000. Now, following further enquiries by Reprieve in the US and Colombia, the theory has been corroborated by cartel members themselves. “Escobar complained directly to me that the Moo Youngs had stolen his money and that of his partners and had to die,” El Asistente says under oath. We cannot reveal his true identity, nor the circumstances of his interview.
“There are a number of people who I know intend to kill me,” he says. His relationship with Escobar and the extent of his knowledge of cartel operations have been confirmed by two kingpins Stafford Smith interviewed in US prisons. One is a top Medellin boss who cannot yet be named. The other is Miguel Rodriguez-Orejuela, 69, a leader of the rival Cali cartel, whom Stafford Smith met at a jail in South Carolina, where he is serving a 30-year sentence for trafficking cocaine to the US.
Krishna’s attorney Stafford found key statements about the Moo Youngs’ dealing with the cartels which had been hidden. However, Maharaj said he does not believe there was a cover-up in the US judicial system to pin the murder on his brother.
“I won't say there was a cover up but I would say in any society where the police have made an error, it is already very difficult for them to admit an error so I think that is all part and parcel. That is how the legal system operates. As a lawyer I see this operate in Trinidad. There are people who claim that they are not guilty and ultimately are found not to be guilty.
“My brother has suffered a lot of incidents in the prison, he is not is good health. My other brother saw him recently and he is very frail. The family is happy about the news and I plan to go see him but you have to arrange visits as there are limited visits to family members. I plan to see him but I would probably have to go back to Miami later this year.”
Krishna migrated to England in 1960 where he established a successful food import company and later owned Britain’s second largest stable. IHe became quite a popular in London’s limelight and gained many celebrity friends. He loved collecting Rolls-Royces—he usually owned four at a time—but Maharaj’s greatest passion was racehorses. At one time, he owned 110 – the second-biggest stable in Britain.
In 1974, the year he met and married his wife, Marita, a Portuguese banker, his horse King Levanstell won the prestigious Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot, defeating a thoroughbred owned by the Queen. The fateful path that led Maharaj to death row started when he began to invest in property in the 1980s. He formed a business with Derrick Moo Young, ostensibly a respectable Florida businessman. However, Maharaj says he soon discovered that Moo Young had embezzled £300,000 from the firm they set up.
Maharaj has always insisted that he was having lunch 30 miles away at the time—an alibi supported by five witnesses, who, inexplicably, were never called to testify at his trial. But his fingerprints were in room 1215. The reason, he has always maintained, was that he had been let into the room to attend a business meeting there earlier that day. But the man he was waiting for did not turn up, so he left.
The prosecution claimed Maharaj’s dispute over the £300,000 was motive for the murders—a claim he angrily denies. In an interview in prison in August, he said: “If I’d wanted to kill him, surely I’d have waited until I got my money?” Krishna’s story is documented in a book titled Injustice written by one of his lawyers, Clyde Stafford.
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