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Jan 7, 2000

Colombians will serve time for drug trafficking

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It was billed as Belize’s largest cocaine bust ever: three point three million US dollars worth of drugs and four Colombians were taken into custody in March of 1997. One of the men was subsequently released and left the country after paying a fine but three others, Antonio Contreras Guerrero, Ramon Vasquez and Javier Martinez were convicted. But they almost got away with a pardon last month when the Belize Advisory Council headed by attorney Ellis Arnold made the recommendation to the Governor General, Sir Colville Young. He signed the papers and although they were scheduled for release on December fifteenth, the government, and the Attorney General Godfrey Smith, intervened the men’s release and asked the advisory council to reconsider. They did. The Colombians will serve their time in a Belizean jail with the hundreds of other Belizeans convicted of similar or lesser offenses. Today News Five asked the Attorney General why, at a time when drug trafficking is such a widespread concern, the advisory council would have sought to pardon three of the major players in a major bust. He also spoke about when pardons are an appropriate course of action.

Godfrey Smith, Attorney General

“We don’t know the answer as to way the Advisory Council would advise the pardoning of the three Colombians and quite frankly, certainly from my standpoint, I am not interested in the reasons why. From my point of view and certainly I think from the government’s point of view, we were not very comfortable with the decision and we raised some concerns which caused the matter to be revisited.”

Q: “How does that work legally, was the paper already signed?”

Godfrey Smith

“To my knowledge, yes, the Governor General, acting on the advice of the Belize Advisory Council, had in fact signed whatever orders were necessary to be signed granting the pardon. But as I understand it the Belize Advisory Council, as they are competent to do, then sat and reconsidered their advice and that resulted in what I understand to have been a reversal or a withdrawal of that pardon. So the current position today as we speak is that that pardon has been revoked or withdrawn.

One could understand cases where somebody in jail it is later discovered was mistakenly convicted as frequently happens sometimes in even the most sophisticated jurisdictions or where sentences are patently, clearly to everybody extremely excessive. Or some very, very special case for example the President of South Africa, I believe it was in 1998, pardoned certain female prisoners who were behind jail due to considerations on children and so on. It is intended to be exercised in those cases but I think it is far from the principle that it was intended to be applied in cases of drug trafficking.”

In other news from the judiciary, a British Judge, Murray Shanks arrived today and will spend the next three months clearing a backlog of cases in the Supreme Court. The new Chief Justice Dr. Abudulia Conteh of Sierra Leone arrives on the fourteenth in time for the opening of the Supreme Court on the seventeenth.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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