Makati judge to NBI: Let go of Canadian drug suspects
A MAKATI City judge has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to immediately release two Canadian drug suspects linked to a Mexican drug cartel, rejecting the prosecutors’ plea not to grant bail to the accused.
Judge Josephine Advento-Vito Cruz of Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 135 denied for lack of merit a Department of Justice appeal of her June 22 ruling that granted bail to James Clayton
Riach and Ali Memar Mortazavi Shirazi.
In an order dated July 16, Vito Cruz upheld her decision allowing the two men to post bail, citing loopholes in the prosecution’s evidence, including supposedly fabricated details about their arrest on Jan. 8, 2014.
Riach and Shirazi were among the four Canadian nationals arrested in simultaneous raids at three condominiums in the cities of Makati and Taguig last year. The bust yielded P100 million worth of cocaine, “shabu” and Ecstasy.
Reached for comment on Saturday, NBI Director Virgilio Mendez said: “We respect the court’s decision but we at this time could not release the drug suspects based on the policy of the Department of Justice. We need an order from the Justice secretary to release the suspects, [considering] the nature of the accusations against them.”
Mendez pointed out that the NBI had received a request from the Canadian Embassy not to release the suspects, who were also facing various charges in their home country.
Despite the issuance of the release order, there is a standing hold departure order against Riach and Shirazi issued on July 1 by Vito Cruz on the petition of Assistant State Prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera to ensure that they remain in the country during trial.
In her ruling, Vito Cruz cited the testimony of Riach’s counsel, Thomas J. T. de Castro, that he was with his client filing a theft case against the latter’s house help at the time of the raid. He also presented documentary evidence to back up his statements, including investigation and inquest papers on the case where Riach was the complainant.
“The court found the testimony of Attorney J.T. de Castro to be credible and straightforward. Sans proof of documentary evidence of his actual presence at the Makati prosecutor’s office, the court could have doubted the credibility of said witness if not for documents that were clear proof [of what happened] on Jan. 8, 2014,” the judge said.
She said the Court of Appeals (CA) 15th Division, in ruling in a related case questioning the issuance of search warrants against the accused, had found the same inconsistency.
The appellate court had found that agents involved in the raid lied about the details of the drug bust, claiming that they were at The Gramercy Residence in Makati from 2:45 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Jan. 8, 2014, and at One Serendra from 3:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. on the same date.
The CA described the agents’ testimonies as “fabricated, trumped up and hard to believe.” It ordered the search warrants quashed for lack of probable cause.
Vito Cruz cited the CA ruling for her decision to grant Riach and Shirazi bail, overturning her March 20 ruling denying the same.
In her latest order, the judge said it was “the prosecution’s burden to establish strong evidence against the accused.”
“The court is one with the government’s fight against illegal drugs, but that fight must be within the bounds of the law less all the abuses and indignities that can [be attributed to] the implementation of the law against illegal drugs,” the judge said.
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