Police are expected to release most of the 19 suspects held in connection with a TT$160 million cocaine bust aboard a cargo vessel bound for Europe.
According to senior police sources, the decision to release 16 Indian nationals and a Turkish man and leave an Indian national and a Turkish man in custody was taken after investigators reached an advanced stage of their investigation and consulted with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), yesterday.
However, Guardian Media understands that the 17 suspects, who were being detained at different police stations in west Trinidad and on-board their vessel, were not immediately released.
Sources said that police were trying to determine the next step for the detainees as none of them had been cleared by immigration officials because they were intercepted off the north coast of Trinidad.
Guardian Media was told that even if arrangements are made, at least three of the Indian nationals would have to remain in custody to operate the large vessel, which remains docked at the Coast Guard’s base at Staubles Bay in Chaguaramas.
The decision on the 17 detainees came hours after their lawyers Wayne Sturge, Mario Merritt, Karunaa Bisramsingh, and Manuela Hospedales wrote to Police Commissioner Gary Griffith threatening to file habeas corpus writs to call on police to justify their clients’ protracted detentions to a court.
As she quoted several cases on the detentions of persons, Bisramsingh said: “The effect of these authorities on the Claimants is that they should have been released after a maximum of 48 hours detention without any charges being proffered against them, and in those premises, our clients have been unlawfully incarcerated by the Commissioner of Police, his servants and/or agents for approximately nine days.”
Responding on behalf of the T&T Police Service (TTPS), attorney Riad Hosein requested that the lawyers refrain from filing the lawsuits as he sought to give an explanation for the apparent delay.
“All the suspects being foreign nationals including your clients makes this investigation a complex one because of the language barrier,” Hosein said, as he claimed that investigators were only able to source and retain appropriate interpreters, last Friday.
He also claimed that it took almost a week to carefully search the 300-foot vessel.
“I am instructed by the investigator that the vessel started to lean on one side upon the tanks being emptied and this created a hazard,” he said, as he noted that Coast Guard engineers had to intervene to address the issue.
Hosein also sought to assure Bisramsingh that her clients’ welfare issues were being met whilst in custody and noted that they had been allowed to regularly communicate with her and their other lawyers.
According to reports on April 28, officers of the Coast Guard’s Special Naval Unit intercepted the MV Throne after receiving intelligence from United States authorities.
They found 475.9 kilos of cocaine hidden in a specially-made compartment in one of the ship’s fuel tanks.
Although the Marine Traffic: Global Shipping Tracking Intelligence website indicated that the ship’s final destination was expected to be Belem in Brazil, sources said that was not the case in this instance.
The source said the ship had traversed Caribbean waters in the last two months and had been to Jamaica in one instance. The tanker, according to the site, left Guayaquil, Ecuador, and passed through the Panama Canal several weeks ago.
Detectives of the Special Investigations Unit are continuing investigations.