THREE VENEZUELANS including the fugitive boyfriend of Grace Asibi, David Vasques Duarte, have been slapped with a 70-year jail term by an Accra Fast Track High Court for drug-related offences.
The convicts were arrested at a house at Mempeasem at East Legon in Accra for possessing 588 kilogrammes of cocaine.
Joel Meija Duarte Moises, Castillo Gervasio Rosero and Vasques were respectively sentenced to 25 years, 20 years and 25 years imprisonment in hard labour on each of the three counts after a trial that lasted two years.
The sentences are to run concurrently.
The accused persons, who pleaded not guilty, were convicted on conspiracy to commit crime, importation, and possession of narcotic drug without lawful authority.
Their jail terms start from November 24, 2005, when they were arrested.
Joel was sentenced on an additional charge of possessing narcotic drugs.
David Vasques, Grace Asibe's boyfriend was tried in absentia as he had been on the run since the cocaine scandal began.
The trial judge, Justice E.K.Ayebi in his judgment, said as far as all the charges leveled against the accused were concerned, the prosecution had proved its case beyond reasonable doubt.
He ordered that all items used in the cocaine deal which the police retrieved, should be destroyed in the presence of Narcotics Control Board (NCB) officials.
The court also confiscated to the state the mobile phones collected from the accused persons on the day of their arrest.
The court further ordered that the passport of Joel should be given back to him but the convicts should be deported to Venezuela immediately after serving their terms.
Justice Ayebi noted that the illegal importation of cocaine was on the rise, giving the country a bad image and that in the case of the accused persons who did not have permit to import narcotic drugs, they made Ghana a destination for large quantities of cocaine.
Prosecution stated that the two were arrested at East Legon by a team of investigators, led by Superintendent Edward Tabiri, upon a tip off that the suspects were dealing in cocaine.
It said when the police got to the house, the gate was locked and so they had to scale the wall to open the main gate.
When they entered the house, they met Joel upstairs and arrested him and led him to his room where they discovered some items which included three bottles of ammonium, 13 pieces of hand gloves, brown cello tape, KLM stickers and a note pad.
Prosecution said Joel had refused to give them the keys to where the cocaine was being kept but after the investigators broke into one of the rooms and found bunches of keys which opened his room, he voluntarily escorted them to the other rooms but said the drug was for a certain 'Blackman' called Shamo.
Castillo, who on the other hand appeared after the police had advised Joel to call his friend to bring them money so they could be let off the hook, was arrested when he entered the house but attempted to escape when he saw the police.
He was said to have Shamo's number on his phone when it was collected from him, indicating that he had a link with the said Shamo, the prosecution believed was Vasques.
Prosecution established that Vasques brought the two accused persons to join him in Ghana to operate a cocaine factory he had set up after he had studied thoroughly the terrain of cocaine business in the country and had thought he could do his business here.
Joel Mejia, the first accused person and the alleged brother of Vasques, was said to be the manager of the factory which produced only cocaine.
Prosecution said Joel, an expert in the business, sold some of the cocaine in the country and exported the remaining substance with embossed KLM stickers to other countries using Compinchex and Afrodita companies as a front in the exportation.
The prosecution also proved that Grace Asibi, under the instruction of Vasques, rented the East Legon house to Joel for $1,000 per month and that it was not true that he was a visitor as he had stated.
However, Joel denied all the allegations stating that he had no knowledge of cocaine in the house he was staying but had come to Ghana purposely to buy diamond.
Castillo also denied assisting Joel in the manufacturing of the cocaine, saying he came into the country as a tourist but knew the latter in Venezuela.
The court noted that both accused persons lied on oath as they contradicted themselves in the statement they gave to the police and that it was true they had a link with Vasques in the business.
Joel had stated that he had been in the country only once but the court, according to evidence, established that he had arrived seven times in the country and had departed twice.
The court noted that although Joel had physical control over the illegal substance as he was the one who had the keys to where they were stored, he refused to tell the source of the cocaine.
In his statement to the police, Joel said he had come to Ghana purposely to buy gold but in court he said he came to buy diamond.
Also Castillo, the court noted, told a lie when he said he came to the country as a tourist indicating that he had the number of Vasques aka Bude and so had a link with both Joel and Vasques. Moreover, he did not visit any tourist centre although he claimed to be a tourist.
He told the court that he was arrested when he went on jogging with a certain Maco and a lady but the court noted he did not give evidence to the assistance Maco gave him when he was arrested, as he could not speak English.
The accused persons upon arrest, refused to hand over their passports to the police. Joel had told the court that Brian Dosso, husband of Vasques' secretary, who picked him up from the airport, collected his passport to renew his visa for him but never returned it.
However in the course of the trial, he presented the passport to the court. For this reason, the court cautioned the police to investigate how he was able to get his passport in prison.
An interpreter translated the judgment to the accused persons who spoke only Spanish.
By Mary Anane