Judges order DPP to defend charges against two after pink suitcase cocaine bust

A Full Court yesterday ordered Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Shalimar Ali-Hack to show cause why her advice to institute conspiracy charges against two persons charged after the pink suitcase cocaine bust should not be quashed.

Maurice Smith

Attorney Nigel Hughes, on behalf of two of the four accused charged with conspiracy to traffic in narcotics, secured the order after arguing, among other things, that the decision was borne out of malice and extraneous considerations and was bad in faith and unreasonable.

Justices William Ramlal and Roxanne George made the order after detailed submissions by Hughes on behalf of former police constable Maurice Smith and Roraima Airways’ Aviation Agent Roderick Peterkin.

Ali-Hack will have to make her case on May 3.

The hearing came after Hughes filed applications on behalf of his two clients for Writs of Certiorari.

Smith and Peterkin, along with Customs Anti Narcotics Unit (CANU) employees Muniram Persaud and Shemika Tennant, were charged with conspiracy on March 11, just two months after a pink suitcase with over 50 pounds of cocaine slipped through the Timehri airport and was later intercepted by US authorities. They were released on $35,000 bail each.

The joint charge alleges that on January 12, at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA), Timehri, they conspired with each other and Dorothy Sears and with other persons unknown to export 24 kilogrammes, 600 grammes of cocaine. Sears had been busted with marijuana in her brassiere and the pink suitcase containing the cocaine at the JFK airport in New York.

Arguing on behalf of Smith, who was interdicted from duty the same day he was charged, Hughes submitted that the charge was ordered instituted by Ali-Hack out of pure malice because of an earlier incident at the airport on October 15, 2009. The lawyer also argued that based on the observations made by the DPP, she was holding his client responsible for the police dog’s failure to detect the cocaine in the suitcase.

Roderick Peterkin

According to an affidavit in support of the application, Smith was a member of the police force for 14 years. He was attached to the canine department of the narcotics branch as a dog handler and would walk the force’s dogs past suitcases before they were loaded for flights. He said that in 2006 he attended a training course for training of sniffer dogs and their handlers at the US Canine Unlimited Academy Training. The name of the dog he handled was Argon, a German shepherd, and according to him the standard operating procedure for dogs who have been trained to detect illicit substances is that the dog, prior to embarking on such a search must be provided with a sample of the illicit substance. The former officer said upon his return to Guyana along with the police dog Argon he informed his superiors of the content of the training course as well as the necessity for the dogs to sniff cocaine before going to the airport for their detection exercises. “At a training session held by the Guyana Police Force late last year the Crime Chief informed me that he would not be providing any cocaine for the Canine division as he was of the opinion that they would either sniff it or sell it,” Smith said in his affidavit.

The former officer said that Argon and another police dog, a Labrador named Lacey born 1999 and 2004 respectively, only detected the presence of cocaine in outgoing luggage once when the handle of the suspected suitcase had traces of cocaine on it. “When the passenger who checked in the suitcase was interviewed, she admitted that she had snorted cocaine shortly before the flight and did not wash her hand before handling the suitcase,” he noted.

Turning to October 15, 2009, Smith said that he was at the airport on that day with the dog Argon, when he was contacted by a customer service agent who informed him that a suitcase had fallen from the cart conveying the suitcases to the airplane and that he wanted a canine security check to be conducted to ensure that nothing illegal had been placed in the suitcase.

He said the customer service agent paged the passengers whose suitcase had fallen and it turned out to be the DPP and her husband, neither of whom protested the search, which did not unearth anything out of the ordinary.

However, upon the DPP’s return to Guyana, Smith said he was summoned to his superior’s office, where he was told that the DPP had requested that his services with the force be terminated because he caused the dog to sniff her suitcase.

A statement was requested from him-which he submitted-and his services were not terminated. He said on February 5, 2010 when the pink suitcase went through Timehri, the dog Argon did not display any signs that he had detected the presence of cocaine on any of the outgoing suitcases on Delta Flight 384.

In her recommendation to have Smith charged, DPP Ali-Hack noted that Smith in his statement said he did not get any response from the dog for that flight. “According to the photographs and information submitted by the US law enforcement agents, the suitcase had 22 bricked shaped objects weighing 24 kilogrammes 622.6 grammes that tested positive for cocaine. Given this quantity of cocaine, it ought to have been detected by the dog. This is further supported by the US CPB Canine that alerted the officials to the suitcase at JFK.

This out to have been done at the Cheddi Jagan an International Airport,” Ali-Hack said in her report to Crime Chief Seelall Persaud. It was based on those findings that she recommended that Smith be charged.

Meanwhile, in relation to Peterkin, Ali-Hack in her report, pointed out that his duties included writing up the Delta baggage bag search log. According to her, he did not write the passenger Dorothy Sears’ name for the Delta 384 flight but instead there was the name Indra Sanasie. “There is no other record that there was a passenger by the name of Indra Sanasie on the Delta 384 flight and that the person’s bag was searched,” she noted.

But Hughes argued yesterday that the DPP’s opinion was erroneous, since there is indeed a passenger by the name of Indra Sanasie recorded on the Delta flight manifest and his client did record that the said passenger’s bag was pulled to be searched but a CANU officer waived the search.

In relation to Sears, Peterkin said that the DPP overlooked and ignored the fact that in the “baggage make up control list for priority  passengers, I attached the baggage stub for Dorothy Sears.”

Smith and Peterkin also objected to further advice given to the Crime Chief by the DPP, that information be shared with US authorities so they can proffer an indictment against all four accused and have them extradited for trial in the US, if the authorities so decide. She had noted that the four not only committed an offence in Guyana but also committed offences contrary to the laws of the US. She said the sharing of information will “encourage the US authorities in future to share more information with the GPF.”

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