May 5, 2009, 6:45 AM
The 12 foreign nationals reportedly arrested in The Gambia with drugs recently were yesterday arraigned before the narcotics court, which is a special section of the Banjul Magistrates' Court.
Memunatu Sesay, a Nigerian/Sierra Leonean national, Fernando Varela, a Cape Verde/Dutch national, Barset Goodwin, a Ghanaian/Serra Leonean,
Ephraim Micheal Chiduben, a Nigerian national, Juan Carlos Sanchez, Eric Bottini, Juan Carlos Diaz, Louis Dose Fermin and Esteaban Zavala, all Venezuelan nationals, George Sanchez, a Mexican/Liberian national, as well as Rudy Rasoehamid Gazi and Dennis Wilgo Winter, both Dutch nationals.
They all pleaded not guilty to the three-count charge of conspiracy to commit an offence; dealing in prohibited drugs for the purpose of supply by retail or wholesale, and the transport and/or transfer; and possession of prohibited drugs for the purpose of drug trafficking.
According to the charge sheet that accompanied the accused persons to court, on or about 12th May 2010, within the jurisdiction of the Republic of The Gambia, the accused had in their possession three parcels of cocaine, a prohibited drug, weighing 3 kg 360g for the purpose of trafficking.
When the charge sheet was read to them, the first accused person, Memunatu Sesay, the only woman among them, at first pleaded guilty to count two - dealing in prohibited drugs for the purpose of retail or wholesale, transport and/or transfer - only to change her plea, within minutes, to not guilty.
The trial magistrate, Hilary U. Abeke, adjourned the case to Wednesday 30th June 2010, following an application by the prosecution led by Chief Inspector Abdoulie Ceesay of National Drug Enforcement Agency (NDEA).
The application was on the grounds that this would enable the prosecution to commence the hearing of the case, as well as give the investigating panel the chance to complete its investigations into the activities of the accused persons.
The magistrate also ruled that all the accused persons be remanded in custody pending the commencement of the trial or any appeal at the high court for bail.
During Wednesday's court sitting in Banjul, the accused persons were not represented by counsel.
This paper, it would be recalled, reported on Wednesday that the first suspects were arrested on 12th May 2010 in connection with 3 kilos 360g of cocaine.
The initial arrests led the investigators to discover and seize 2 tonnes, 340kg and 860grams of cocaine last Friday in a warehouse located in Bonto village in the Kombo East district of the Western Region.
The early charges preferred against the accused persons for the small quantity of cocaine, during their first court appearance, are believed to be holding charges, and will likely be followed by more charges relating to the massive haul reported on Wednesday.