In a marathon judgement which saw lawyers, court clerks, journalists, relatives and security officers catching a nap in court, Justice Nicolas Browne Marke Monday evening convicted 15 people including 7 foreign nationals of conspiracy to import cocaine into Sierra Leone.
This follows an unauthorized landing of a Cessna 441 conquest aircraft on 13th July 2008 at the Lungi International airport. The aircraft was found to contain nearly 700 kilograms of white substance believed to be cocaine.
The convictions come after nearly four months of trial which is an exemplary feat for the judiciary in Sierra Leone. The convicted foreigners include 6 South Americans (Colombians, Venezuelans, Mexican and American) and 2 West Africans, a Cuban-Togolose and Guinea Bissau national.
The Sierra Leonean nationals include 2 police officers, a national security officer, 2 air traffic controllers and the former national team manager.
In the nearly four hour long reading of the judgement, Justice Browne Marke painstakingly went through the statements made by the accused persons, the witnesses, and the handling of the exhibits.
He stated that according to the second accused whom he said made a clean breast of the whole event, the plane made two stops before landing in Sierra Leone.
These stops were in Venezuela and Colombia, and it was on the Colombian frontier with Venezuela that the cocaine was loaded in the plane.
He narrated the incidents at the airport which led to the
Landing of the plane the flight of the pilots until they were caught and documents found in a house which also included a map of the international airport.
At the end justice Browne Marke convicted the 1st 2nd and 3rd accused on count 1 and 4 which deals with accessory after the fact to the importation of cocaine and possession of cocaine respectively while finding the 4th and 7th accused not guilty.
With count 6 which deals with knowing and willfully displaying a false mark on an aircraft, the 1st 2nd and 3rd accused were found guilty.
On count 5 which was conspiracy to import a prohibited drug without lawful authority all the accused persons were found guilty.
The accused and their lawyers then pleaded for mercy. The 8th (Harvey Steven Perez) and 9th accused (Gerardo Quistana Perez) cried in court as they pleaded for mercy.
Sentencing was postponed for today Tuesday 21st April, 2009