Prosecution demands 15 years for $1.2 billion cocaine transport

POSTED: 02/13/14 12:11 PM

St. Maarten – The prosecution demanded yesterday 15 years of imprisonment against three men who were caught with 1,453 kilos of cocaine on March 3 of last year. Prosecutor
Tineke Kamps estimated the value of the drugs at an astonishing €900 million ($1.2 billion). The court will pronounce its ruling on March 5.

Only one of the three suspects was in court – 34-year old Jhnon Henry M. Two other suspects, Carlos Miquel Olivier-Cruz (30) and Marco David Santana-Guerero (35), escaped from the police station on June 23 of last year. They have never been found and yesterday they stood trial in absentia without legal representation. A third man who escaped together with the two suspected drug traffickers, Sobiesky Manuel Parrondo, was sentenced, also in absentia, in July of last year to 14 years imprisonment.

The three cocaine traffickers were spotted by a DASH-8 patrol plane of the Coast Guard on the evening of March 3 of last year. The Eduardono fiberglass boat, powered by three 200 horsepower outboard engines, was on its way from Venezuela to the Dominican Republic, flashing across the waves at a speed of 17 knots (31.4 kilometers) per hour. The Coast Guard directed the Hr. Ms. Friesland to the area and kept track of the boat with a helicopter. Interceptor boats were launched to force the vessel to stop, but the crew initially ignored the calls and kept going. Even when hovered low over the boat, the men did not stop. That changed after the Coast Guard fired four warning shots. Then the boat, that was sailing without lights and without a flag (and was therefore considered stateless), stopped.

On board, officers found 51 bales, containing 1,453 kilos of cocaine. Of this amount, 11 kilos were handed over to agents of the American Drugs Enforcement Agency (DEA) for evidence.

Defendant Jhnon Henry M. told the court yesterday that he knew there were packages on board but that he did not know they contained cocaine. Later it appeared that he had told something different to police under interrogation. “You knew it was about drugs,” Judge Koos van de Ven told the defendant.

M. said that he was promised $10,000 to make the trip, but that he never received a penny. He also claimed that he was on board to do what the other two crewmembers told him to do.

The drugs, 1,442 kilos of cocaine, were burned on the dump in Philipsburg by the authorities. The boat was destroyed. Prosecutor Kamps said that the case against M. is clear. “This is an absurd amount of cocaine,” she said. “We have not been able to find a larger catch in the past.”

The amount of drugs – and its near unimaginable value of more than $1 billion – led the prosecutor to remark that the transport must have been the work of a large organization. “They do not pick somebody of the street just like that for a transport of this magnitude,” she said. “I have a lot of trouble believing the defendant that he was picked at random to earn $10,000 this way.”

The prosecutor said that international law gives St. Maarten jurisdiction over a stateless boat. She noted that the defendant “knows more than he wants us to believe.” The guideline for cocaine trafficking indicates a prison sentence of between 8 and 12 year for transports of 100 kilos. “In fact, the maximum punishment for this crime is life imprisonment,” Kamps said. “One of my colleagues said: if we do not demand the maximum sentence in this case, when will we ever do that? But I am not going that far.”

Kamps demanded 15 years imprisonment against M. Later, she demanded the same punishment against the two absent defendants.

Attorney Eldon Sulvaran said he was unable to take the prosecutor’s demand seriously. “It is not about the amount of drugs, it is about the role my client played,” he said. “The prosecution has to establish that.”

Sulvaran asked the court to declare the prosecution inadmissible, because he claimed that his client had been interrogated in St. Maarten by three DEA-agents. “That can only be done based on an international request for legal assistance. There has to be a legal basis,” he said.

Sulvaran dedicated quite some time to the extradition request against his client that played in September of last year. The Common Court of Justice ruled against extradition to the United States; the solicitor-general has gone in cassation against this decision at the Supreme Court. Sulvaran reasoned that his client is prosecuted on two tracks and that this should not be allowed. He contested the legality of his client’s detention and asked the court for his immediate release.

Judge Van de Ven did not take an immediate decision about this request. It will have to wait until the court ruling of March 5.

Prosecutor Kamps noted that Sulvaran had not substantiated his claim that the defendant had been interrogated by DEA-agents. She noted that the procedure surrounding a possible extradition to the United States is unusual. “But that does not play a role in this case,” she added. “For the facts the defendants has been charged with here he cannot be extradited.” The prosecutor sad to be prepared to deduct the time M. had spent in extradition detention from his eventual punishment.

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