CANU ranks testify in trial of accused in 100-lb Parika drugs bust

Three Customs Anti-Narcotic Unit (CANU) officers, including the lead investigator, yesterday testified when the trial of five men accused of trafficking over 100 pounds of cocaine and cannabis at Parika, East Bank Essequibo, continued.

Khemraj Lall, 39, Marlon Lawrence, 36, Rajendra Persaud, 47, Cleve Thornhill, and Doodnauth Chattergoon, 36, are charged with trafficking 13.8 kilogrammes (equivalent to 30 pounds) of cocaine  and 35 kilogrammes (77 pounds) of cannabis on June 6th, at Parika.

CANU said Lall, Lawrence, and Persaud were intercepted with two 15-gallon bottles, with parcels containing cocaine and cannabis concealed inside. Thornhill and Chattergoon are alleged to have assisted in the delivery of the drugs. 

CANU had said it received information regarding a shipment of drugs arriving at Parika from Charity via a speedboat. As a result, officers proceeded to the West Bank of Demerara, where they received additional information about vehicles bearing licence plates PSS 8019 and PVV 7934.

From left in handcuffs are Doodnauth Chattergoon, Rajendra Persaud, Khemraj Lall, Marlon Lawrence and Cleve Thornhill after they appeared in court on June 12

It was further explained that vehicle PSS 8019 was intercepted along the Parika Public Road with Lawrence and Persaud. A search of the vehicle revealed two blue 15-gallon bottles with the bottoms of each cut. They were engineered in such a way that they were secured with wire and covered with brown paste. A further examination of the bottles revealed several packages, containing leaves, seeds and stems, suspected to be cannabis, and parcels containing a powdery whitish substance, suspected to be cocaine. The discovery was said to have resulted in the interception of the other vehicle.

The trial continued yesterday with cross-examination of the lead investigator as well as the testimonies of two other CANU officers.

 During the course of cross-examining the lead investigator (who is not being named for security reasons), attorney Joel Edmond, who is representing Thornhill, suggested that his client’s admission during questioning was to transporting the bottles without knowledge of what had been contained in them. However, the officer disagreed with the suggestion.

Meanwhile, in his testimony another officer told the court that a confrontation was held at CANU Headquarters between Chattergoon and Lall, who were asked about a cell phone and a satellite phone which were found in a bucket in the car belonging to Lall.

Chattergoon reportedly told investigators that he was initially given the satellite phone by Lall to hand over to Thornhill but that he was then instructed by Lall to also accompany Thornhill on the boat ride from Charity to Parika.

This was reported to have been confirmed by Lall, who told investigators that he been entrusted with the satellite phone by an individual he identified as John Peters and whom he had met in Port Kaituma.

In addition to the satellite phone, questions were also asked about a cell phone which had Lall’s full name and a number suspected to be his taped to it. The court heard that it was from this cellphone that investigators were able to retrieve voice recordings between Lall and two persons identified as “Alvaro” and “Flacko.”

The officer testified that on June 11th, Lall was presented with a cell phone which he confirmed to be his and he was questioned based upon the recordings that had been retrieved from the phone.

According to the officer, Lall answered yes when asked if Alvaro asked him to collect something and if Flacko was waiting for him on the “water top”; whether he had received a message from Flacko saying that he was waiting on the water for his boat to reach; and whether he had later messaged Flacko informing him that “everything reach good;” and whether Flacko had responded, “Thank God everything reach good.”

He then explained that further investigations were done, which resulted in the five men being charged for trafficking narcotics.

His testimony was followed by that of another officer, who recounted having to surveille two vehicles, one bearing licence plate PVV 7934 and the other PSS 8019, on June 6th before intercepting the second vehicle.

The officer explained that at the time of interception, the vehicle was driven by Lawrence, with Persaud as a passenger. Both were told of the drug trafficking allegation.

It was at this point, the officer said, that Lawrence told CANU ranks that he was just hired by Persaud to collect two bottles.

Subsequent to this, a search was conducted and the bottles were found and inspected, leading to the discovery of the narcotics.

The officer noted that following the discovery, the men were once again questioned but at that time they chose to remain silent.

The matter has been adjourned until November 21st.  

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