Derek Achong

Two Indian crew members and a Turkish shipping executive have been denied bail after appearing in court in relation to the seizure of almost 500 kilos of cocaine aboard a vessel off the coast of Trinidad.

Captain Shaikh Noormohammad, second mate Chandan Singh and Behzat Tokgoz, an executive of Stark Shipping, which leased the vessel from its owner, were remanded into custody after appearing before Magistrate Aden Stroude in a virtual hearing, yesterday afternoon.

Police prosecutors and the three accused men participated from the Besson Street Station, while Stroude and their attorneys participated from their respective offices in Port-of-Spain.

The hearing began around midday but the parties took a break to visit the offices of the Special Investigations Unit to inspect the shipment of drugs before it was tendered into evidence and ordered to be taken to the Forensic Science Centre in St James for testing.

During the hearing, Tokgoz’s lawyers Om Lalla and Derek Balliram applied for bail for him as they claimed that he was willing to abide by any conditions set by the court. The also stated that the father of four had no previous convictions or pending criminal cases either locally or internationally.

Attorneys Wayne Sturge, Mario Merritt, and Karunaa Bisramsingh also made similar submissions for Noormohammad and Singh.

Merritt questioned the summary of evidence provided by investigators as he claimed that it had no details of the evidence linking his clients to the sizable shipment of drugs found onboard the vessel.

Merritt also asked why the document did not mention US$250,000 in cash that was also allegedly hidden on the ship, according to their clients.

Responding to the submissions, police prosecutor Sgt Azard Ali said that the T&T Police Service would need an additional two weeks to obtain the trio’s Interpol criminal record tracing.

He said that he would have to consult the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for information on the summary of evidence.

After consulting with investigators, Ali denied the existence of the cash.

“That amount of money was not found or seized,” Ali said, as he claimed that police only found small quantities of cash on each of the men found on the vessel.

Stroude eventually rejected the bail application as he said that he felt that the men would be flight risk consider the nature and seriousness of the charge. He adjourned the case to May 29.

According to reports, on April 28, officers of the Coast Guard’s Special Naval Unit intercepted the MV Throne after receiving intelligence from United States authorities.

They found 475.9 kilos of cocaine hidden in a specially-made compartment in one of the ship’s fuel tanks. The estimated value of the drugs is TT$220 million.

In total 19 persons, who were on board, were arrested. However, all but the trio were cleared after police completed their investigation and consulted the DPP’s Office.

The 16 men, 15 Indian nationals and one Turkish, were not immediately released as the Immigration Division denied them entry in T&T even though they were arrested and brought to T&T by investigators.

Guardian Media understands that 13 of the men were taken to the Immigration Detention Centre in Aripo, while three others remained detained at the Coast Guard’s base in Staubles Bay, Chaguaramas, as they have to assist in operating the 300-foot vessel while it remains impounded.

Legal sources said that lawyers for the 13 men issued a pre-action protocol letter over their detention as they claimed that the Immigration Division made its decision without consulting them and without giving reasons for doing so.

The lawyers did not receive a response, up to late yesterday.

Tokgoz was also represented by Raphael Morton-Gittens.

In a press release issued late yesterday evening, the T&T Police Service (TTPS) claimed that the DPP’s Office had instructed investigators to institute forfeiture proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act for the vessel.

“Section 58 of the Police Service Act will be initiated through the court to obtain an order for its disposal via sale and for funds to be deposited into an interest-bearing account pending the outcome of the substantive trafficking charge,” the statement said.