By Sainey M.K. Marenah, Shout-Africa.com Chief Correspondent in the Gambia – The magistrates’ court in Banjul yesterday convicted and sentenced eight foreigners each to 50 years in prison with hard labour, at the end of the multi-million dollar cocaine trial.
They were all found guilty of charges of conspiracy to traffic in prohibited drugs, trafficking in drugs, dealing in prohibited drugs, having firearm without authority, importation of firearm without authority, among others.
The convicted persons were Ephriam Micheal Chiduben, a Nigerian national, Juan Carlos Sanchez, Eric Bottini, Dose Fermin, Juan Carlos Diaz, 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.
On count one of conspiracy to traffic in prohibited drugs, they were fined D20 million in default to serve 20 years in prison, and on count two another 20 years in prison or a fine of D20 million.
The court on count 3 said they must pay a fine of D50 million in default to serve 50 years in prison.
The court also handed down the mandatory sentence of 50 years without any option of a fine, after they were convicted on one of the counts.
Meanwhile Juan Carlos Sanchez was convicted and sentenced on count four to three years in prison, count five one year and on counts six and seven another three years, as well as an additional 1 year in prison for another count, with all sentences to run concurrently.
Delivering his judgment in a packed courtroom, Magistrate Tabally adduced that the prosecution had proven their case beyond reasonable doubt, and that the convicted persons were guilty of the offences charged.
He gave the summary of the evidence of the prosecution and that of the defence, and analysed them according to law.
Tabally said he was convinced that the accused persons were in possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking, adding that the court believed the evidence of the prosecution witnesses.
In his plea of mitigation, defence counsel Lamin L.S Camara told the court that the convicted persons were in prison custody since they were arrested.
The counsel added that the first accused person is in his 60s, and that he has major health problems such as poor vision, as well as high blood pressure.
“He is married in The Gambia with several children, and he is also the breadwinner in his extended family,” counsel said of his client.
He said the rest of the convicts are young people, in their youthful age, further mitigating that they are first-time offenders.
Camara urged the court not to impose a custodial sentence, but to impose a fine, as sending them to jail was not the best option.
He, therefore, urged the court to temper justice with mercy by way of a monetary fine.
Responding to the defence plea, the Director of Public Prosecutions, M. Abdoullahi, said the verdict did lie at the discretion of the court.
He reminded the court that the 8th accused was convicted by the same court for a drugs-related offence, and was fined D1 million.
DPP M. Abdullahi applied for compensation of D300, 000 to the state, being the costs for procuring expert evidence, and other related costs.
However, the defence counsel opposed paying compensation to the prosecution, adducing that compensation could only stand when there was injury or loss, and there was no evidence of material loss or injury in the case.
He added the state was the only the complainant in the case, and could not be compensated, because it is duty-bound to prosecute alleged offenders.
The DPP’s application was overruled by the court, and subsequently Magistrate Tabally pronounced his verdict.
Magistrate Tabally told the court that he has carefully listened to the plea of mitigation.
“I have tried a lot to temper justice with mercy, but the court should not also lose sight of its responsibility in protecting the citizenry from drug abuse or trafficking.
He said drugs-related problems escalate the crime rate in the country, and the court must ensure that the country is drugs free by imposing heavy sentences or fines in order to serve as a deterrent to other drug dealers who are yet to be caught by the long arm of the law.
“I am really shocked by the judgment; I would appeal against the judgment at the superior court, as soon as possible.” Camara told reporters.
The DPP’s view was that justice has been done.
Readers would recall that sometime in the month of May 2010, the convicted persons were arrested and arraigned before the narcotics court for allegedly being in possession of cocaine amounting to two and half tonnes.
They were, among others, accused of conspiring 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 in diverse places in The Gambia, between 2009 and May 2010, and at a warehouse located in the village of Bonto, several kilometers from the capital city of Banjul.