CCJ to hear appeal by fish glue cocaine convict

On March 16, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is to hear an appeal by fish glue cocaine convict, Vishnu `Haffa’ Bridgelall who had been sentenced to 10 years in jail in 2007 for drug trafficking but was later freed and then had his sentence reinstated.

Bridgelall was one of several persons who had been charged following a Customs Anti-Narcotic Unit (CANU) raid at Enterprise on the East Coast of Demerara in May, 2007 where they discovered over 100 kilogrammes of cocaine in fish glue being prepared for export.

Vishnu Bridgelall

On November 23rd, 2007, Magistrate Sherdel Isaacs had jailed Bridgelall for ten years and imposed a whopping $254 million in fines, after she found him guilty of two counts of possession of over $84 million worth of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking.

Bridgelall appealed his conviction to the Full Court which discharged him on December 4th, 2009. By this time he had served 30 months of his 10-year sentence.

The state subsequently appealed the Full Court decision to the Guyana Court of Appeal and on October 24th, 2016, the Court of Appeal reinstated the magistrate’s 10-year sentence against Bridgelall.  On December 6th 2016, Bridgelall filed an application with the CCJ for special leave to appeal against the Court of Appeal ruling reinstating  the 10-year sentence. In the proceedings filed, the respondent is Hardat Hariprashad of CANU.

The CCJ in its preliminary ruling addressed a number of matters which arose as a result of submissions by counsel for both sides.

It ruled that Rebekah Shivdayal be appointed the next friend of the applicant (Bridgelall) and enabling all necessary documents to be properly executed by her. This matter had arisen as counsel for the respondent had argued that Shivdayal’s affidavit in support of Bridgelall’s application should be discounted as it was filled with hearsay and was not supported by corroborating material. The court ruled that testimony that Shivdayal is the wife of Bridgelall and that Bridgelall was in Canada undergoing medical treatment after suffering a “debilitating stroke” was sufficiently probative to be admissible.

The CCJ added “The evidence adduced satisfies the court, on the balance of probabilities, that without the intervention of Ms Shivdayal, the Applicant would not be able to access the Court to process this appeal and that she is acting in his best interests”.

The CCJ further ordered that the Court of Appeal ruling of October 24, 2016 restoring the 10-year sentence be stayed pending the hearing and determination of the matter or alternatively bail be granted to Bridgelall upon his own recognisance until the hearing and determination of the matter.

Bridgelall is also at liberty to file on or before February 23rd  , 2017 a note of reasons given verbally by the Court of Appeal when it delivered its judgment.  The CCJ noted that the Guyana Court of Appeal has not produced the reasons for its decision. “We believe that the interests of justice require that we do not delay the hearing of this application. The full record of proceedings in the court below, including the full submissions before the Court of Appeal, have been filed by the Applicant. Additionally, a note of the reasons for the Court of Appeal’s decision has been filed by the Respondent. We will therefore proceed on the Record currently before us”, the CCJ said.

The CCJ also ruled that as catered for within its powers, the hearing of the application for special leave will be treated as the hearing of the substantive appeal. The matter will be heard on March 16th at the seat of the court in Port of Spain. The parties are also at liberty to apply to the court before March 9th for permission to appear by video conference.

On May 17, 2007 when Bridgelall and three others first appeared at the George-town Magistrate’s Court, Chandrika Chattergoon, called ‘Percy’, 27, of 185 Charlotte Street, Enterprise had pleaded guilty. Principal Magistrate Melissa Robertson-Ogle, before whom they had appeared, had sentenced Chattergoon to four years in prison on each count and remanded the other three, after turning down bail applications by their lawyers. The case was then transferred to Vigilance.

Bridgelall’s two co-accused, Thakoor Persaud, called ‘Thaks’, 32, of Lot ‘K’ Soesdyke and Azad Khan, called ‘Waqar’, 32, of 6 Madewini, both on the East Bank Demerara, had been granted $700,000 bail when the prosecution closed its case.

Handing down her ruling on November 23rd, 2007, Magistrate Isaacs exonerated Persaud and Khan at the same time as she pronounced Bridgelall guilty.

Before the CCJ, Bridgelall is being represented by Sanjeev Datadin while Sonia Joseph is appearing for the respondent.

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