Thursday, January 30, 2014

2 Jailed 35 years for dealing in cocaine

Published on January 8, 2014 (Page 13)

 • Seth Grant (right) and Miller Roland O'Neil (3rd left) leaving the court to begin their sentence for illegal possession of cocaine. Picture: SAMUEL TEI ADANO. • Seth Grant (right) and Miller Roland O'Neil (3rd left) leaving the court to begin their sentence for illegal possession of cocaine. Picture: SAMUEL TEI ADANO.

Two persons were Monday sentenced to 35 years imprisonment for illegally importing  414 kilogrammes of cocaine with a street value of $60 million into the country.
The convicts, Miller Ronald O’Neil, the Guyanese captain of the vessel that carted the narcotic drugs, was slapped with a 20-year jail term, while Seth Grant, a Ghanaian based in Brazil, got a 15-year sentence.
They both pleaded guilty to three counts of engaging in criminal conspiracy, importation of narcotics without lawful authority and possession of narcotic drugs and were convicted on each count but the sentences are to run concurrently.
“I accept full responsibility”
Pleading with the court for leniency, O’Neil told the court that he had run into financial difficulties and was on the verge of losing his house and for that reason, agreed to cart the drugs for a fee.
“As captain, I take full responsibility. I took the job to offset financial debt but have now lost everything I cherish. I now place myself at the mercy of the court and plead for leniency,” O’Neil implored, when the court asked if he had anything to say before he was sentenced.
According to him, at age 55, there was no way he could start life all over again and conceded that he had no choice but to accept full responsibility for his actions.
Giving the background to his criminal history, O’Neil said he was tricked by an agent 18 years ago to transport cocaine which landed him in a Netherlands prison for a year.
The convict said he had turned over a new leaf but he was faced with the trauma of losing his house, which in turn drove him into accepting to cart the narcotic drugs for a fee.
Grant’s admission
Admitting that he had difficulty speaking English, Grant, nonetheless, pleaded with the court in English and informed it that he agreed to cart the drug in a boat for $7,000.
He, however, pleaded for mercy on the grounds that he had no criminal record.
The convict, who is 43 years old and married with two children all based in Brazil, looked bewildered after the court passed sentence.
In passing the sentence, the court, presided over by Mr Justice Clemence J. Honyenuga, took into consideration the prevalence of the drug trade, the gravity of the offence and the reputation of Ghana.
Plea of not guilty
The court had earlier on December 23, 2013, reversed a guilty plea entered by three other accused persons.
They are: Percival Junior Court, a Guyanese engineer; Samuel Monty, a Guyanese seaman and Singh Primchand, an Indian seaman.
According to the court, considering the explanations given by the three, it was incumbent on the court to enter a not-guilty plea on their behalf.
The court will begin taking evidence in the case on January 10, 2014.
Substance is cocaine
Prior to the conviction, the Head of Drugs and Forensic Laboratory of the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA), Mr Martin Adarkwah Yiadom, had conducted a random test on three slabs and two tested positive outright for cocaine. The result of the third slab, according to him, needed further analysis because it tested partially positive for cocaine.
US Forensic Experts
The court permitted officials from the Drug Enforcement Agency of the Department of Justice in Virginia, USA, to pick 30 different samples, each weighing one gram, for further testing in the USA.
It gave the permission after a Forensic Chemist, Ms Laura Michelle Jones, was made to swear an oath before testifying on why her outfit needed the samples. Ms Jones told the court that the samples would be taken to a laboratory in Virginia to determine the purity of the cocaine and its origin.
Corroborating her evidence, Mr Justice Honyenuga said the court had received letters from the US Embassy in Ghana and the Narcotics Control Board (NACOB) all praying the court to allow the forensic experts to take samples of the drugs for further testing.
Taking into consideration Ms Jones’s evidence, the letters and the need for the brains behind the drug trade to be picked up, Mr Justice Honyenuga granted the request. The samples have since been taken.
A Chief State Attorney, Mr Asiamah Sampong, prosecuted the case.
Pungent smell
A pungent smell filled the courtroom when the court directed that the slabs of cocaine which were packed in sacks should be counted.  Officials from the NACOB, court clerks and the trial judge had to cover their noses with nose masks to protect themselves from inhaling the narcotic substance.
Some journalists and members of the public left the courtroom for some minutes and returned after the counting had been completed. Some people coughed occasionally and covered their noses with handkerchiefs as the proceedings went on.
Cocaine destroyed
Meanwhile, the court has ordered the destruction of 413 slabs and directed that the remaining slab should be kept in the registrar’s custody until the final determination of the case.
The destruction of the cocaine, through burning, was witnessed by the media, the trial judge, officials from NACOB, the court, the Environmental Protection Agency and the GSA.
Facts of the case
In November, 2013, NACOB received information on the suspicious movement of a vessel by name Atiyah Ex-Alisam, with registration number 000471, which was heading towards Ghana and had been loaded with illicit drugs.
According to the said information, the vessel was from British Guyana-George Town. As a result, security agencies including the Ghana Navy, the Police and National Security were alerted.
The vessel was eventually intercepted on November 19, 2013 by the Western Naval Command in Takoradi.
A search on the vessel revealed 21 fertiliser sacks smeared with engine oil containing 414 slabs of compressed substances. A field test indicated that the substances were cocaine.
The prosecutors said O’Neil, the captain, had told them the drugs were to be delivered to someone in Ghana but they could not mention the name of the recipient, adding that he had the contact of the recipient.
According to O’Neil, the drugs were to be delivered on the high seas for a fee of $50,000, while the rest of the crew was to take various sums of monies.
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