Diasporian News of Saturday, 30 April 2011
Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Three foreign nationals suspected of being members of a West African drug syndicate have been charged with trafficking in illegal drugs.
The syndicate, tagged as an international crime group, allegedly uses West African, Filipino and other Asian agents in recruiting couriers to transport dangerous drugs into other countries.
Charged with violating the 2002 Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act were Malik Bawa, a Togolaise national, Richard Appiah of Ghana and Puntiva Chareonthong of Thailand. The charges were filed in February this year before Judge Jaime Salazar Jr. of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 103.
Drug peddling is a nonbailable offense, punishable with life imprisonment and a fine ranging from P500,000 to P10,000,000.
Department of Justice assistant state prosecutor Hjalmar Quintana Jr. said there was probable cause to charge the three with conspiring to transport nearly a kilo of cocaine to Thailand.
“We are not unmindful of the fact that two may have valid defenses but we likewise cannot discount the possibility and probability that they are part of a criminal syndicate identified as operating in the Philippines,” Quintana said.
The three were arrested on Jan. 8 at a Quezon City motel during a “controlled delivery operation” of a suspicious bag the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) earlier seized at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Both Appiah and Chareonthong denied the charges of conspiring to transport 970.9 grams of cocaine, while Bawa was unable to file a counteraffidavit after being abandoned by his lawyer. The three also denied knowing each other before their arrest.
Records showed that agents of the PDEA intercepted a backpack and a laptop bag on Nov. 21, 2010. The backpack was found to contain the cocaine.
Chareonthong and Bawa arrived in the Philippines in January and allegedly expressed interest in the contraband.
On Jan. 8, PDEA officers arranged a sting operation at an inn in New Manila, Quezon City with PDEA agent Richard Tinong acting as the bag’s custodian.
Chareonthong was first to arrive at the designated room followed by Bawa and Appiah. The three were arrested “for taking interest in the bag” containing the cocaine.