Seychelles' court drops drug charges against 8 Iranian sailors; 3 still face trial
The Seychelles' courts building 'Palais de Justice' at Ile du Port. (Seychelles News Agency)
(Seychelles News Agency) - Eight Iranians charged with importation and trafficking of drugs were released on Thursday by the Seychelles Supreme Court. Charges remain against three others.
The case relates to the April arrest of 11 Iranian nationals who were charged with two counts of importing and trafficking of controlled drugs, including heroin and opium
Principal State Counsel David Esparon told SNA that charges against the eight men have been withdrawn based on evidence presented in court.
“Although a person is on a boat we have to prove that there is a link, that the person is in control of the drugs onboard. In this case we could not link the eight to the drugs,” Esparon told SNA.
The case was heard by Judge Mohan Niranjit Buran.
The prosecution has however maintained charges against the remaining three suspects in the case -- the captain, the son of the ship’s owner and a sailor.
“We believe that we will be able to prove the three persons’ link to the drugs seized onboard the vessel, as there is sufficient evidence to prosecute them,” said Esparon.
The Iranians were arrested onboard a dhow -- a type of sailing vessel common to the Gulf Arab states -- in mid-April. This followed a joint operation by the Seychelles Coast Guard and the National Drugs Enforcement Agency (NDEA).
The authorities reported the seizure of 98 kilogrammes of drugs, including heroin and opium, in what the NDEA said may be the largest seizure ever in the Seychelles' territorial waters.
|The Iranian Dhow captured by Seychelles Coastguard and NDEA officials in the Indian Ocean on the 16th April 2016. (NDEA) Photo License: CC-BY|
Esparon said that the office of the Attorney General's office has not been able to establish whether the drugs were linked to Seychelles, although the men were arrested in the waters of the Indian Ocean archipelago.
“It should be noted that although charges have been dropped, at any given time the Attorney General can step in and reconsider the evidence,” he added.
The eight sailors released on Thursday, including a minor, will now be deported to Iran.
Their lawyer, Clifford Andre, said the eight will now be declared prohibited immigrants “so that formalities can be done to deport them.”
With regards to his three remaining clients, Andre said their trial will resume on Monday.
“Following the amended charge on Thursday, they were brought before the court to make their plea,” he said to SNA. “They pleaded not guilty to all four counts and I will now prove that there are not enough evidence to prosecute them.”
The vessel was apprehended off the coast of Bird Island, which is located some 100 kilometers from Mahé, the main island. Although registered as a fishing vessel, no fish were found during the search and there was no evidence that the fishing lines found had been used, the NDEA said.
The anti-narcotics agency said it is not known where the vessel was coming from, although it is believed the drugs originated from the Makran Coast, between Iran and Pakistan, a route used to transport narcotics destined for the East African coast. The agency said it believed the consignment was destined for Tanzania.
Offences including the manufacturing, importing and trafficking of drugs of an amount in excess of 250 grammes carry a potential life sentence in Seychelles, following the amendment of the Misuse of Drugs Acts in August 2012.