Cocaine accused freed after names disappear from case jacket

Three out of four persons who were charged following a huge cocaine bust in November and remanded to prison were released on their own recognizance yesterday, after their names mysteriously disappeared from the case jacket.

The men: Canada-based Guyanese Narayan Jarbandhan, 40; Salim Bacchus, 49; Gary Belgrave, 52, and Leo Hernandez, 44, were arrested by the Customs Anti-Narcotic Unit (CANU) and had appeared before Magistrate Geeta Chandan Edmond at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court 10, on November 4, a charge of possession narcotics for the purpose of trafficking.

Narayan Jarbandhan

According to the particulars of the charge, on November 3, at Line Path, Skeldon, Corentyne, Berbice, the four had in their possession 41.856 kilogrammes (approximately 82 pounds) of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking.

The men had pleaded not guilty to the offence, after which they complained of being brutalised while in custody of CANU officers. They had showed the magistrate cuts and bruises about their bodies.

At the Springlands Court yesterday, the men’s attorney, Ramesh Rajkumar, argued that his three clients—Jarbandhan,  Belgrave and Hernandez—were in fact never charged and were locked up wrongfully for a prolonged period. Magistrate Krishndat Persaud was then forced to let them go.

The fourth man, Bacchus of Crabwood Creek, whose name appeared on a separate jacket, was further remanded to prison.

Leo Hernandez

Stabroek News was told that the names of the three persons appeared on the outside of the other jacket but Bacchus’s name was written again on the inside of that one.

Following their appearance before Magistrate Chandan Edmond, the case was transferred to the court of the acting chief magistrate, but she transferred it to Magistrate Persaud two weeks ago instead, when they were again refused bail.

There are reports that everything was in order with file up to that time.

When the charge was originally read to the quartet, CANU Prosecutor Oswald Massiah had told the court that Jarbandhan was charged with a similar offence committed at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) while he was travelling to Canada, some time during 2009.

Jarbandhan was charged after allegedly being caught with 2.553 kilogrammes of cocaine in a false compartment of his suitcase at the CJIA. At the time, his address was given as Lot 11 Gordon Street, Kitty and he was described as a clothing trader.

Gary Belgrave

Massiah said the man was found guilty at the Providence Magistrates’ Court on July 16, 2010 and was sentenced to five years imprisonment and fined $30,000. He had been granted bail in the High Court, pending the determination of an appeal of the verdict, the prosecutor said.

Head of CANU James Singh had said that the bust was a joint operation involving CANU, the Berbice Anti-Smuggling Squad (BASS) and the Surinamese authorities as CANU worked to strengthen its cooperation with agencies in neighbouring countries. Singh had said too that the operation was ongoing and that at least two more persons were being sought.

Salim Bacchus

According to reports, the persons arrested were about to drop off the drugs when CANU officers moved in on them. The drugs were reportedly in 40-1 kg parcels stashed in two bags and it appeared that they were destined for Suriname.

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