CANU officer testifies on surveillance of truck, discovery of drugs

Racers cocaine trial

The trial into the $550 million cocaine-in-lumber case continued yesterday with the testimony of the officer from the Customs Anti-Narcotic Unit (CANU) who discovered the cocaine stashed away in the lumber on the day the bust was made.

Motor biker Stephen Vieira, 33, of Middle and Cummings streets, Georgetown; along with Sherwayne De Abreu, 35, of Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara; and motor racers Tazim Gafoor, 45, and his son, Nazim Gafoor, 20, of Windsor Forest, West Coast Demerara were charged jointly on May 31, 2017.

The men are accused of having in their possession 84.9 kilos of cocaine between March 1 and May 12, 2017 at Zeelugt, East Bank Essequibo.

The CANU officer in his evidence-in chief detailed the series of events that led to the discovery of the cocaine in the lumber on May 12, 2017, including trailing the truck transporting the lumber from Parika to where the discovery was eventually made, in Zeelugt, East Bank Essequibo.

The officer shared with the court that surveillance began around 9:30 that morning when the truck GSS 4748, already laden with the lumber was spotted heading east along the highway.

Sherwayne De Abreu

At the time, four persons were in the truck, the driver who was identified as Shafeek Salim and three porters, all of whom later told police that they were employed at Narine Lall’s Lumber Yard.

The court heard that the truck made several stops along the West Coast Highway before the truck crossed the Demerara Harbour Bridge, en route to the Guyana National Industrial Corporation (GNIC) Wharf.

However, according the CANU officer, the truck stopped short at Bagotstown where it stayed for 10 minutes before subsequently turning around and heading back over the bridge where it stopped for an hour before proceeding back to the West Coast.

And like its journey from Parika, the officer said the truck stopped  several times at different places along the West Coast of Demerara and East Bank of Essequibo,  including at Zeelugt where it stayed for an estimated 40 minutes before subsequently turning off the main road and stopping in front the residence of Hakeem Mohamed, the prosecution’s star witness.

According to the rank, the information was communicated to his superior officer; it was during this time too that the men were seen removing a quantity of lumber from the truck.

Not long after, the officer said he approached the men and identified himself as an officer from CANU, shortly after which the driver of the truck explained he was hired to transport the lumber to the wharf when he received instructions from Hakeem Mohamed to turn back.

Questions were asked regarding the location from which the lumber was uplifted and he was told that it came from Narine’s Lumber yard in Parika.

Additional questions regarding the owner of the truck and the lumber resulted in Mahadeo Khan and Narine Lall being identified as the respective owners. The others were questioned and told officers that they too worked with Narine Lall at the lumber yard in Parika.

After sometime, the men were told that the lumber was suspected to contain narcotics and would be subjected to a search.

The court heard that other CANU officers arrived at the property and the lumber was photographed and searched.

Sharing details of the first search, the officer said he conducted the search on one of the logs that had already been removed by drilling and knocking on the wood

He told the court that as he continued to drill, a whitish substance which was suspected to be a narcotic was noticed; samples of the substance were taken and tested for positive for cocaine using a narcotic field test kit.

The results of the test were presented to the men and the kit and he explained to the men what he had done and his findings, before cautioning them.

Meanwhile, the search of the lumber continued, the officer said, as he detailed his use of an ax and hammer to split one of the logs in half, where he found a quantity of white substance parceled off and lined off from end to end of the log.

The parcels were counted in front of the men and they were subsequently taken into custody, along with the truck containing the lumber.

The officer is expected to complete his testimony today at the Leonora Magistrate’s Court where the case is being presided over by Magistrate Rochelle Liverpool.

On May 12, CANU conducted a raid and found the drugs concealed in dressed lumber at Hakeem Mohamed’s premises at Lot 227 Zeelugt.

The cocaine which carries a street value of over $550 million was reportedly stashed in lumber at a sawmill at Lookout, East Bank Essequibo, belonging to Narine Lall, for whom an arrest warrant has been issued. Reports are that a truck was hired to pick up and transport the lumber from Lall’s Sawmill to a wharf at Georgetown.

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