Pink suitcase cocaine bust: DPP to defend conspiracy charge advice in two weeks

Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Shalimar Ali-Hack is expected to submit arguments within another two weeks to a Full Court, which recently called on her to defend charges against two persons implicated in the pink suitcase cocaine bust.

The DPP was absent from court yesterday and former attorney general, Doodnauth Singh appeared on her behalf. He informed the Full Court, which comprises Justices William Ramlal and Roxane George that the DPP was unable to attend because of health-related matters, and made oral submissions for her basically raising preliminary points.

Singh objected to the application before the Full Court, which was filed by attorney-at-law Nigel Hughes on behalf of two of the four accused charged in the case with conspiracy to traffic in narcotics. Hughes had earlier secured an order from the Full Court which was directed to the DPP and had called on her to show cause why her advice to institute conspiracy charges against his clients should not be quashed.  Hughes had argued that the decision was borne out of malice and extraneous considerations and was bad in faith and unreasonable, among other things.

But yesterday Singh rejected this saying there is nothing in the affidavits filed in the case to support the contention the DPP acted out of malice. He also preliminarily submitted that the Full Court in the Barry Dataram case made a wrong decision and therefore the court has no jurisdiction because Dataram was wrongly decided.

It was disclosed in court yesterday that the DPP wrote to the Chief Justice requesting Justice Ramlal recuse himself from hearing the matter because Hughes also represents the judge’s sister, Supreme Court Registrar Sita Ramlal.

In the letter dated April 23, 2010, the DPP said two state counsel had appeared before the Full Court seeking permission to speak prior to the commencement of the hearing earlier that morning, but the application was refused. Ali-Hack stated the counsel were seeking to apply for Justice Ramlal to recuse himself from the hearing.

According to the DPP, there is an apparent real likelihood of bias since Hughes also represents the Registrar. “Mr Hughes is the counsel for Ms Sita Ramlal and therefore would be an apparent bias to the public whenever he appears before Justice Ramlal. In addition it is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done,” the DPP wrote. The DPP also pointed out that the case is of international importance since the investigations originated in the US Department of Justice, noting that some of the witnesses are coming from the US.

Chief Justice Ian Chang later passed the letter to Justice Ramlal and allowed both him and Justice George to give independent submissions on the request by the DPP. It was reported that Justice Ramlal submitted among other things that he was not connected to the decision of his sister to retain Hughes as an attorney.

The judge said too that neither of the litigants is related to him and or his sister, and he also indicated that any of lawyers, at least 15, who appear for his sister, would then be unable to appear before him for fear of an allegation of bias. Justice George effectively stated that the authorities do not establish a case of bias in the present matter.

Hughes said yesterday the letter sent by the DPP was most unfortunate. “Here you have the head of the state prosecution agency saying that a sitting judge, who is also a member of the state, is biased; that is a serious allegation to make,” Hughes said. He said the bias is merely based on the fact that Justice Ramlal’s sister has retained him as her attorney, adding that in theory it would mean he cannot appear before the judge in any matter.

Hughes’ clients Maurice Smith and Rodrick 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.

The hearing continues later this month.

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