Two Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) officers and a security agent were yesterday arraigned on a charge that they conspired to traffic the cocaine found last week in a bag at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri (CJIA).
Anthony Thomas, Ravindra Singh and Gregory Luke, who allegedly conspired with a person or persons unknown to traffic 11.44 kilogrammes of cocaine by attempting to export it on July 27 at the CJIA, were refused bail by Chief Magistrate Priya Sewnarine-beharry at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court.
The three men denied the charge when it was read to them but arguments by their lawyers failed to move the magistrate on the question of bail and she remanded them to prison.
Thomas, a father of two, of 43 Middle and New Market Streets, Georgetown has been a Grade Two Officer of the GRA for the past 11 years and at the time the offence was committed he was attached to the CJIA.
Luke, 30, of 27 First Street, Herstelling, East Bank Demerara, has been a Grade One Officer of the GRA for the past six years and was also attached to the CJIA.
Meanwhile, Singh, called “Ravi,” 19, of Lot 8 Company Road, West Ruimveldt, was employed as a security agent with Security Innovation Concept at the airport for the past two years. The court heard that Singh has been living with his grandmother and three young siblings since he lost his mother at a tender age.
According to Special Prosecutor of the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU), Oswald Massiah, on July, 20, Singh asked an airline officer to generate a baggage tag for him, for which he paid US$2,500.
Massiah said the airline officer subsequently had a change of heart and returned the money he was given by Singh and requested that the tag be returned to him but Singh refused.
On July 27, Massiah said, Thomas reported to work on the night shift but stayed around dressed in his uniform when his shift was over the following morning, and he had a conversation with Singh.
This conversation between Thomas and Singh, the prosecutor said, took place after Singh had an earlier conversation with the operator responsible for transporting luggage to and from the aircraft. By that time, the court heard that Luke had reported for duty.
Massiah said that Luke acted as a lookout for the baggage containing the cocaine to be transported to Caribbean Airlines Flight 526, destined for the United States of America. According to the prosecutor, Luke was paid a reward by Thomas to be the lookout while he (Thomas) took the bag and placed it on the baggage court to be transported unto the plane.
The court was then told that a senior security officer later inspected the baggage and he unearthed what at time appeared to have been the illegal substance concealed in ten individually wrapped parcels. The substance was subsequently tested, weighed and amounted to 11.44 kilos of cocaine.
Massiah said that further investigations were later carried out and the defendants were arrested and charged.
‘Bad in law’
Attorney Nigel Hughes, who appeared for Thomas, vehemently contested the facts related by the prosecutor, saying that his client is innocent of the charge levelled against him and knew absolutely nothing about the cocaine.
Counsel contended that the supposed evidence which the prosecution has against his client would be inadmissible in a court of law, since the prosecution is attempting to use the statements of one co-accused against the other.
Counsel said that at no time was the illegal substance found in the custody, care or control of his client.
Hughes argued that the charge itself was bad in law, since it was filed under the wrong section. He said that the defendants were charged under section 95 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act.
Hughes contended that under this section, the defendants could be admitted to bail but not necessarily under section 5 for which special reasons have to be advanced. He, however, argued that what the prosecution has done was to charge the men with conspiracy under sections 95 and tried to bring it under section 5 as well, thus making the granting of bail difficult.
After Massiah indicated to the court that CANU’s investigations were not yet complete but will be in another two weeks, Hughes asserted that investigators can now no longer attempt to get additional information from the accused since they have now been formally charged and placed before the court. The only way they can get any information from the men, Hughes contended, would be in the case to safeguard national security.
Counsel, in a passionate appeal for his client’s pre-trial liberty, cited these as special circumstances.
Massiah, however, said that there were no special circumstances. He argued too that the defendants were properly before the court. He also accused Thomas of attempting to evade lawmen that were looking for him—a charge that prompted an immediate response from a visibly irate Hughes, who called the claim a “perversion of the truth.”
Hughes said the moment his client learnt through an article published in the Stabroek News that he was wanted by the police, he contacted his lawyer (Hughes) and reported to the station.
Hughes said that the prosecutor’s contention made absolutely no sense since his client would not run towards the police if he was trying to evade them, but would rather have run further away from the police after reading the Stabroek News article.
Hughes said that no one tried to contact his client.
Silence not criminal
Attorney Abiola Wong-Innis, who represented Singh, questioned why the airline officer who is reported to have handled the baggage tag was not charged as well. She said that that person was in custody up to late yesterday morning but was subsequently released.
Counsel argued that the only reason her client was charged and placed before the court was because he did not help the police and elected to remain silent.
Wong-Innis vigorously advanced that one’s silence is not a criminal act and an individual should not be penalised for it. She added that Singh has vehemently denied the charge against him.
Attorney James Bond, who represented Luke, said he endorsed his colleagues’ submissions.
He argued that the facts related by the prosecutor failed to show that his client had the requisite “mens rea” (guilty mind) for the commission of the offence for which he was charged. He said that the prosecution had no evidence against his client and that Luke was at no time in custody, care or control of the alleged illegal substance.
After hearing the submissions, which lasted some 30 minutes, the court informed that the men were properly placed before the court on the charge. Magistrate Sewnarine-Beharry then informed the visibly worried men that they would be remanded to prison. Their matter was transferred to the Providence Magistrates’ Court for August 5, when statements are to be filed.