Jan 8, 2010, 10:21 AM
The state last Wednesday, 21st July 2010, preferred a fresh charge of conspiracy to traffic in prohibited drugs against the 12 foreign nationals arrested recently in connection with the large quantity of cocaine seized in The Gambia.
The 12 were arraigned at the special narcotics court of the Banjul Magistrates' Court before Magistrate Hilary U. Abeke.
The accused persons are: Rudy Rasoehamid Gazi, a 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.
The accused persons, who are yet to take their pleas on this new charge, were earlier charged with three counts namely, 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 latest charge sheet, all the accused persons, between the year 2009 and 12th May 2010, at a warehouse in Bonto, in Brufut and several other places in The Gambia, conspired amongst themselves and others now at large, to traffic in various measures of cocaine and other prohibited drugs totalling more than two and a half tonnes.
When the case was called, the state counsel N.B. Jones told the court that that state has filed a fresh charge sheet on 14th July 2010, and that the state was applying to substitute the charge sheet earlier filed by the NDEA. She also informed the court that the state hopes to file more charges upon the conclusion of the investigations.
N.B. Jones then asked the accused persons to take their plea on the new charge sheet, but lawyers representing the accused persons were opposed to the accused persons taking their pleas on the new charge.
Lawyer E.E. Chime, representing the 8th 9th 10th and 12th accused persons rose and contended that the state prosecutor had told the court that the state intends to file more charges upon completion of their investigations. That means the investigation is still ongoing, he said. If the plea is taken now, there is a tendency that another plea would be taken, counsel argued.
Furthermore, Chime stated, they were served with the new charge sheet less than 10 minutes before the case was called, and that the defence needs time to discuss with their clients.
Lawyer L.S. Camara representing the 1st 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 11th accused persons told the court that the accused persons cannot take their pleas whilst the other charges for the same offence was not withdrawn. He argued that the earlier charges have to be withdrawn first, and then fresh charges filed, before they could take their pleas. He said not to do so would mean "double jeopardy", that is, they would be punished twice for the same offence in the same court.
In his ruling, the trial magistrate overruled the defence submissions. He stated that the amendment of a charge sheet can be done at any stage of the proceedings.
Subsequently, the case was adjourned to 4th August 2010 for plea taking.