Kamla: Probe sentence for men caught with ganja, gun

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Some of the marijuana plants which police found in the Tamana forest on February 8 during a drug eradication operation. – Photo courtesy TTPS

Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar is calling for a probe into the decision to issue a $10,000 fine to two men held with $3 million in marijuana and a high powered rifle.

The police in a statement on Thursday said the men Saleem Villaruel, 21, and Azizi Williams, 42, were arrested on February 8 and jointly charged on February 13 after a surveillance exercise at a camp site 12 kilometres into a forested area of Romain Trace, Guaico, Tamana.

The Eastern Division Gang and Intelligence Unit (EDGIU) and Multi-Operational Police Section (MOPS) officers observed the men tending to a four-acre field with more than 1000 full-grown marijuana trees and approximately 1000 seedlings.

The marijuana had an estimated street value of $3.2 million and was described as local hydro grade.

Some of the marijuana was cultivated in a greenhouse.

Police also found a Draco Rifle fitted with a laser and seven rounds of 7.62 ammunition.

The two men pleaded guilty to the offences of cultivating in cannabis, possession of a prohibited weapon and possession of ammunition.

They were fined $10,000 by master of the High Court Sarah De Silva.

They were given three months to pay the fine or face up to two years hard labour.

In a statement on Thursday, Persad-Bissessar described the fine as “extremely lenient” and an insult to police officers and the public.

“This lenient fine is an insult to the hard-working police officers who trekked 12 kilometres into the forest to apprehend these criminals as well as to a population besieged by violent crime fuelled by illegal drug trafficking.”

She asked whether a ballistic report was considered during sentencing, as she said the gun might have been used in shootings or murders.

Persad-Bissessar called on the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Chief Justice, and the Judicial and Legal Services Commission to “immediately undertake separate independent investigations into the scandalously light fine of $10,000.”

A Draco rifle which was seized by police on February 8 during a raid at a marijuana plantation in Tamana where two men were held. – Photo courtesy TTPS

She said any fine imposed on the men should have been proportionate to the $3.2 million dollar value of the marijuana and called for the sentence to be appealed.

“The penalty is appallingly inappropriate and is counter to the uncontested evidence in the midst of a national campaign against violent lawlessness.”

She praised the police and the court prosecutor for “diligently undertaking their professional duties” but said the master of the High Court “should be called upon by the relevant authorities to properly account for this extremely lenient sentence.”

In matters where the state is aggrieved by the lenient sentence it is open to the office of the DPP to appeal.

Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard told Newsday he was not yet aware of the case and could not yet say if the State intended to appeal the sentence.

Asked if he would be looking into the case now that it was brought to his attention, Gaspard replied, “Of course.”

Asked about his thoughts on sentencing for people found with large quantities of marijuana and high powered rifles, Gaspard said he didn’t want to “open up that pandora box.”

He added, “I want to consider each case on its own merit.”