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Privy Council tells State to return $5.7M

Privy Council tells State to return $5.7M
Ramdhanie freed


DEOCHAN RAMDHANIE, who was sentenced to life imprisonment with his father Mantoor and two others in 1997 for trafficking cocaine, is now a free man.

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London yesterday quashed the convictions of the four men, and ordered no re-trial.

The Law Lords also ordered the State to pay costs to the appellants for the London appeal. The Privy Council also ordered that $5,727,298.46 which was confiscated by the State under the Dangerous Drugs Act after the convictions, be returned to the men.

Ramdhanie, Patrick Toolsie and Ken Gresham walked out of the Maximum Security Prison in Arouca just after 5 pm yesterday. They were accompanied by their lawyers Mark Seepersad and Gerald Ramdeen, who threatened to file habeas corpus proceedings after being told no one knew when the men would be freed.

The judgment of the Privy Council also exonerated Mantoor Ramdhanie, who died in prison in August 2003, at age 58.

After his freedom, Ramdhanie, 40, told Newsday that he was innocent, that he was framed by the police, and that his father never had any drugs on him. "I donít even know what cocaine looks like," he declared.

Ramdhanie continued, "I am feeling real happy. I must thank the Privy Council, and I am sorry that my father is not here today. He died after we got leave to pursue the appeal. I was always confident that I would have been freed."

Ramdhanie thanked his lawyers and his friends who stood by him. Asked what he intends to do now, Ramdhanie said, "I canít say what I will do. All the family businesses have gone.

Nine years of my life have gone, I donít know where to start. I had to be released from prison in 2003 to perform the final rites for my father at Dass Funeral Home. But I am happy to be free again," Ramdhanie added.

The jailing of Deochan Ramdhanie in 1997 was not the end for him. In 1999, he was taken to the Princes Town Magistratesí Court as a witness for a man on a car stealing charge. While he was kept in the cells at the court house, Ramdhanie mysteriously disappeared, but was later caught in neighbouring Venezuela and brought back to Trinidad.

A Commission of Inquiry was appointed to investigate the circumstances surrounding the escape. After the inquiry, several police officers were charged and Ramdhanie received another jail term for the escape.

Deochan, Mantoor, Toolsie and Gresham, were convicted before Justice Stanley John at the Chaguaramas High Court on May 6, 1997, for trafficking cocaine at Point Fortin. They appealed, but the Court of Appeal comprising Justices Mustapha Ibrahim, Roger Hamel-Smith, and Jean Permanand, dismissed the appeals and ordered that they serve their sentences.

The four men were sentenced to life imprisonment with a declaration that they were not to be released before the expiration of 20 years from June 2, 1997. The court also made confiscation orders against Mantoor in the sum of $3,887,604.58 to be paid within three months, in default 15 years to follow the life sentence; against Deochan in the sum of $1,816,003.71 to be paid within three months, in default 12 years; against Toolsie in the sum of $23,537, in default four years; and against Gresham $153.17, in default two years in jail.

The appeal in London was heard before Lords Hoffmann, Rodger, Walker, Brown, and Mance. British Queenís Counsel Patrick OíConnor and Dr Charles Seepersad appeared for the appellants, while James Dingemanns QC and John Almeida, represented the State.

The appellants submitted three grounds ó the failure of the defence counsel to raise and/or the trial judge to direct the jury on their good character; the prosecutorís closing speech was improper and engendered prejudice, and the sentences imposed were manifestly excessive.

The four men were arrested in Point Fortin by members of the Narcotic Squad on October 18, 1996, and charged with trafficking cocaine.

The main issue, according to Lord Mance, was the closing speech of special prosecutor Karl Hudson-Phillips QC.

The Law Lords found that Justice John, not having permitted the defence to pursue a line of cross-examination on the ground of prejudice to the defendants, "the prosecutor in his closing speech was permitted to excite the same prejudice by references to the same material enhanced by highly prejudicial matters."

Lord Mance continued, "Having studied the whole of the prosecuting counselís final speech, their Lordships consider that it not only included (a) passages in which counsel in effect told the jury or strongly implied that there was incriminating material which had not been put before them, but that it also contained (b) emotive and unjustified comments on the defence case and evidence or on defence counsel and (c) a number of passages where counsel improperly vouched for the soundness of the prosecutionís case."

Their Lordships considered that, contrary to a direction of the trial judge, the speech of prosecuting counsel contained significant statements of views that he was not entitled to express.

After the Law Lords found that the convictions were unsafe, Dingemanns invited the court to remit the case to the Court of Appeal with a view to a fresh trial.

However, Lord Mance pointed out that Mantoor was dead, that the men had been in prison for nine years, and that Lisa Merez, a prosecution witness, had died.

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