Two accused in 100-lb Parika drug bust contradict each other

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

The five men accused of trafficking over 100 pounds of drugs last year yesterday all maintained their innocence, while two contradicted each other.

Trial magistrate Rochelle Liverpool is expected to deliver her ruling on January 31st on whether Khemraj Lall, 39, Marlon Lawrence, 36, Rajendra Persaud, 47, Cleve Thornhill, and Doodnauth Chattergoon, 36, are guilty or not.

They are charged with trafficking 13.8 kilogrammes (equivalent to 30 pounds) of cocaine and 35 kilogrammes (77 pounds) of cannabis on June 6th, 2018, at Parika.

No-case submissions presented by attorneys representing the five men were overruled yesterday by the magistrate, who then called upon them to lead their respective defences.  As a result, each man gave an unsworn statement to the court.

In their statements, Persaud and Lawrence contradicted each other.

According to Lawrence, who spoke first, he had been working as a taxi driver with Prosperity Cabs Taxi Service on the day in question and he received a phone call from Persaud, who asked to be taken to Georgetown.

He noted, however, that after he picked up Persaud, the man received a phone call and instructed him to drive to Parika instead.

Lawrence told the court that after they arrived at Parika, he was instructed to drive to Kiss Wharf, where he saw an Amerindian man, whom he later learnt to be Cleve Thornhill. At this point he said Persaud asked him to stop the vehicle and open the trunk.  He further alleged that Thornhill placed the gas bottles in the trunk before relating that someone will call. Lawrence stated that he then re-entered the car and Persaud instructed him to drive back to Georgetown. However, they were stopped shortly after by Customs Anti-Narcotic Unit (CANU) officers, who accused them of trafficking narcotics

The man claims that he denied the allegations to the officers before noting that he is just a taxi driver who had been hired by Persaud.

His statement was, however, contradicted by Persaud, who, in his unsworn statement, told the court that though he had contracted Lawrence earlier in the day for a trip to the city, the drive to Parika was his driver’s idea and that he had merely agreed to accompany him.

A mechanic by profession, Persaud explained that he had first called another taxi driver for the job of taking him to the city, however, he was unable to contact the man and as a result he resorted to calling Lawrence, whom he described as another driver he would normally use.

Further, the man claimed that they had visited three stores in the city as part of his attempts to locate car parts for a customer of his. However, no purchases were made since he wanted to first speak with his clients about the brands and prices.

Having finished his business earlier than anticipated, Persaud claims that Lawrence, who had received a phone call, asked him whether he wanted to accompany him on a drive to Parika to pick up “something” for a friend.

Persaud told the court that he agreed on the condition that he would stop to see a friend of his who sells in Parika. However, the man told the court that when they arrived in Parika, Lawrence related that he was late and could not stop. He added that they continued on to the wharf, where he saw an Amerindian man and at which point Lawrence stopped the car, got out and opened the trunk.

Persaud, who maintained that he was in the back seat at the time, said he did not see what was placed in trunk. He said after Lawrence spoke with the Amerindian, he re-entered the car and quickly drove off.

 They were subsequently stopped by a CANU officer, whom Persaud claims pointed guns at him and instructed him to remain silent. Persaud also noted that it was then that he first learnt of the containers in the trunk and the allegations of drug trafficking.

“I have no knowledge of narcotics, no container in the trunk. I did not touch anything; I am a mechanic by profession and I am doing well. I do not need to do anything illegal to support my family,” Persaud told the court.

‘Don’t know’

Meanwhile, Cleve Thornhill in his unsworn statement told the court that he works with different persons as a boat captain, piloting boats to different locations. He said on the day in question he was asked to bring Lall’s boat to Parika from Charity. “I bring the boat to Charity from Parika. I didn’t know nothing went on the boat. I does work to carry boats to Barama, Port Kaituma, Kumaka just to maintain me wife and children. I don’t work with one person, I does work with different, different, people,” Thornhill explained.

“I don’t know nothing about the narcotics, I get charged innocently, I didn’t do nothing,” he too said.

Similarly, Doodnauth Chattergoon, who lives on the Essequibo Coast, told the court that he was asked by Lall to accompany Thornhill from Charity to Parika.

“Me was to come to Parika to buy some twine for me seine and I received a call from Khemraj Lall and he ask me to come from Charity to Parika with he boat. I told he that I gon come… he told me go to Charity and come with the boat with Cleve Thornhill and he gon (say) when he reach Parika,” Chattergoon said.

“When we reach he tell me come out, he deh waiting in the car. He ask me where Cleve Thornhill deh and I tell he, he coming just now. I told him that I got to go to Gafoor to buy twine for my seine and I want go back Essequibo. He told me just now we gon go and when Cleve Thornhill come, we were going out when CANU interrupt we,” he added.

The man went on to tell the court that the vehicle they were in was searched, however nothing was found. He also noted that when CANU officers levelled the drug trafficking allegations, he denied them.

Lall, in his unsworn statement, admitted to hiring Thornhill to transport his boat from Charity to Parika and asking Chattergoon to accompany the boat captain on the trip.

However, he denied having any knowledge of narcotics, while noting that though their car had been stopped and searched by CANU officers, nothing was found.

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