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Cocaine 12 Trial, Defence challenges charges

Aug 6, 2010, 1:17 PM | Article By: Bakary Samateh

(Thursday, 5th August 2010 issue)
Lawyers representing the 12 foreign nationals standing trial in connection with a large quantity of cocaine seized in The Gambia recently, have challenged the new charge sheet filed by the state.

According to the particulars of offence, the accused persons between 2009 and 12 May 2010, at a warehouse in Bonto and Brufut, and several other places in The Gambia conspired among themselves and others still at large to traffic in various measures of cocaine and other prohibited drugs totalling more than two and half tonnes.

The 12 accused persons appeared before the special narcotics court of the Banjul Magistrates' Court yesterday.

When they appeared before the court at the last adjournment date, the case was subsequently adjourned for plea-taking.

Consequently, the charge sheet was read to the accused persons for them to take their pleas.

However, Lawyer Lamin Camara, representing the 1st 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 11th accused persons rose and told the court that he was objecting to the charge sheet.

His grounds of objection were that the charge "is duplicitous, is uncertain in law and incurably bad."

Noting further that this latest charge sheet is ambiguous, the defence counsel added that the charge was supposed to be specific and clear, in order to give the accused persons sufficient understanding of the exact nature of the alleged offence committed, so as to enable them know what they plead to.

Lawyer Lamin Camara submitted that count one filed by the state is duplicitous. The accused persons are charged with conspiring to traffic cocaine, yet "and other prohibited drugs" is used in the charge sheet. Counsel said that by using the words "other prohibited drugs", these could be cannabis sativa or heroin.

Counsel further argued that using the words "more than two and half tonnes" in the charge sheet could mean that the accused persons are dealing with more than what is indicated in the charge sheet.

He told the court that it is for these reasons that the charge is ambiguous and creates uncertainty in law.

The defence counsel added that the court has the authority to strike out any case, if the charge sheet is duplicitous or could order the charge sheet to be amended, if such amendment would not cause any injustice to the accused persons.

He, therefore, urged the court to uphold his objection.

Another defence lawyer, E.E. Chime, representing the 8th, 9th, 10th and 12th accused persons, told the court that he was maintaining his initial objection to the charge, "as it's tantamount to putting something into nothing."

He said all the names of his clients are wrongly spelt, and that may mean the wrong person is brought before the court. Counsel, therefore, urged the court to strike out the matter or order the amendment of the charge sheet.

At that juncture, state counsel N.B. Jones, appearing for the prosecution, rose and said she was applying for an adjournment to enable her reply to the objections of defence counsel, adding that the submissions were too voluminous and, therefore, she needed time to reply.

Subsequently, Magistrate Hilary U. Abeke adjourned the case to 10th August 2010.

The accused persons, all foreign nationals are Rudy Rasoehamid Gazi, Dutch national, Juan Carlos Sanchez, Venezuelan, Esteaban Zavala, Venezuelan, Dennis Wilgo Winter, a Dutch national, George Sanchez, a Mexican/ Liberian national, Louis Dose Fermin, Venezuelan, Eric Bottini, Venezuelan, Ephriam Micheal Chiduben, a Nigerian national, Barset Goodwin, a Ghanaian/Sierra Leonean, Fernando Varela, a Cape Verde/Dutch national, Juan Carlos Diaz, a Venezuelan national, and Maimuna Sesay, a Nigerian/ Sierra Leonean national.