Defence lawyers representing the remaining fifteen (15) accused standing trial in the ongoing cocaine case have on Tuesday 17th March closed their cases in defence of the accused persons.
The accused persons were asked by presiding judge, Justice Brown Mark to either choose to make a statement from the dock or the witness stand to contradict the prosecution’s case against them or to rely on the statements they made to the police at the time of their arrest.
The 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 15th accused persons all made statements in relation to the allegations against them as presented by the prosecution. The 1st accused, George Aristizabel Archila, a Columbian national was the pilot of the plane that landed with the cocaine at the Lungi Air Port. He told the court that it was never in their plan to use the Sierra Leone air space but were forced to do so because of bad weather. He explained that they ran out of fuel and were looking for the nearest air port to land. “While I was flying over land in an emergency the only option I had was to land at the nearest airport and the nearest was the Lungi Air Port” he added. He further stated that when they attempted to communicate with the control tower they encountered a problem. They had no option but to land without reply from the control tower. The pilot told the court that he was told by the investigators who took statements from him that they were only going to take statements from him and seize the plane and its content and then deport him to his country Columbia.
The 2nd accused Victor Manuel Araujo Lastreto (assistant pilot) told the court that this is his first time of coming to Africa and Sierra Leone in particular. He also mentioned that they ran out of fuel and that led to their forceful landing at Lungi AirPort. Victor also told the court that the investigators told him to sign a document which they said was a statement he made and was written in English which he could not speak, read or write. He also said he was thinking that after he signed the document he will be deported back to his country.
The 3rd accused Julio Cesar Morales-Cruz said he is a plane painter and he was forced to join the plane against his wish. Julio went on to tell the court that the man responsible to pay those who paint the aircraft at first offered him $10,000 (ten thousand dollars) and tried to convince him to join the aircraft but the accused said he refused. According to Julio the same man met him and offered to give him another $20,000 (twenty thousand dollars) and threatened him to either decide to do what he was told or something negative will happen to his family. Julio further explained that he had no option but to comply with the man in order to protect his family. That was the first time he met with the pilot and all those that were in the plane.
The brother of former Minister of Transport and Aviation Mohamed Bashir Sesay Aka Ahmed Sesay (4th accused) denied having any knowledge about the cocaine plane prior to its arrival. Ahmed Sesay told the court that he is a business man and law student who owns an investment called Leona Investment in England. He told the court that he had never engaged in any illegal business throughout his business career let alone to mention cocaine. Three witnesses were led in evidence by defence lawyer Roland Wright. Shirley Blell, former manageress of Lagoonda Entertainment complex, Yeabu Kamara, former Assistant manageress of Lagoonda and Mohamed Dauda Kamara, Security at Lagoonda all testified in court that they saw Ahmed Sesay on the 12th July 2008 at Lagoonda. This was the very day the cocaine plane landed.
All other accused persons told the court that they relied on the statements they made to the police at the time of their arrest. The matter was adjourned to Monday, 23rd March where the Director of Public Prosecution is expected to address the cases presented by various defence lawyers.