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Friday, July 25, 2014
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Appeal Court affirms conviction
Six men convicted for the $700 million Monos Island drug bust—the largest ever in T&T—lost their appeal against their convictions yesterday. The Court of Appeal dismissed all the grounds raised by the two Trinidadians and four Venezuelans but deferred its decision on an appropriate sentence.
The six—Trinidadians Victor Sylvester, 44, and Shaheed Ali, 36, Venezuelans Alonzo Valera, 40, Cesar Pereira, 40, Freddie Garcia, 39, and Darwin Gonzales, 29 —were contending that the judge in their trial had made several errors in summing up the case to the jury who convicted them in 2008.
Through their legal team, the six also claimed prosecutors had failed to disclose to the defence attorneys the statement of one of the State’s main witnesses, a watchman at the house on the island off Chaguaramas where the drugs were found. Special prosecutor Dana Seetahal, SC, who represented the State before she was murdered on May 4, had argued that the statement was not crucial to the State’s case.
The group was arrested after policemen from west Trinidad raided the house at Passy Bay, Monos Island, around 3 am on August 23, 2005. In addition to the 1,749 kilos of cocaine police also seized two rifles, three pistols, one revolver, a sub-machine gun and a large cache of ammunition. Sylvester, a water taxi operator, was arrested aboard his boat near the island, while Ali was found walking on a beach. The four foreign nationals were arrested in the house.
While judges Paula Mae Weekes, Rajendra Narine and Nolan Bereaux agreed the convictions were safe they still invited submissions from the group’s attorneys in relation to their sentences.
The six were convicted in May 2008 and sentenced by Justice Alice Yorke-Soo Hon to life imprisonment with an order that they were not to be released in less 30 years. The Appeal Court agreed with the defence attorneys that some clarification was necessary to determine whether a 30-year sentence or one of the natural life of each of the men was appropriate.
The Venezuelans had been each slapped with a 20-year sentences for possession of the seven illegal guns and ammunition. These sentences were ordered to run concurrently with their life sentences. In sentencing them Yorke-Soo Hon, who has since been elevated to the Appeal Court, criticised the police’s investigation into the bust.
“The main house was never searched and the owners never investigated... the ownership of the drugs was never established and the employers of these men were not found. All these unanswered questions facilitated the escape of the big fish,” Yorke-Soo Hon said. The group’s legal team included Senior Counsel Pamela Elder and attorneys Joseph Pantor, Jagdeo Singh, Keith Scotland, Richard Mason and Daniel Khan.