Pubdate: Wed, 21 Jan 2004
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2004 The Edmonton Journal
Author: David Howell, The Edmonton Journal


Hashish found in van owned by David den Otter

EDMONTON - An Edmonton man who spent 70 days in a Spanish jail last year 
after being caught with 22 kilograms of hashish in his van has learned he 
no longer faces prosecution.

David den Otter, 33, was in Edmonton Tuesday for a business meeting when he 
heard the heartening news. It came in a phone call from his wife, Jacquie, 
who was in Tangier, Morocco, where the couple live with their eight children.

"I don't think it's totally sunk in yet," he said later. "It's a little bit 

Jacquie phoned to tell David that the charges he faced, as well as those 
against her and two Americans accused along with them, have been dropped.

"We've been exonerated," David said. "They're going to return all the 
property that was seized -- my van, my laptop, various other things that 
were with us. And we do have the right to (seek) some damages."

David den Otter is general manager of the Moroccan offices of Computronix, 
an Edmonton-based software development and consulting company.

Two weeks ago, a Spanish prosecutor told den Otter's lawyer that the case 
would be going to trial and that 3 1/2-year prison terms would be sought 
for each of the accused.

But the lawyer was later able to convince the prosecutor to drop the 
unusual case after a thorough examination of the evidence.

The saga began in March 2003, when a police dog sniffed out 22 kilograms of 
hash in the den Otter family's secondhand Mitsubishi van at a border 
crossing between Morocco and Spain.

The den Otters, their 14-month-old son Taylor, David's colleague Robert 
Knight, and Knight's wife and their two-year-old son, had been waiting in 
Ceuta, Spain, to take a ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar.

They were going to Malaga to meet David's visiting cousins.

The hash -- which would have been worth about $176,000 in Edmonton -- was 
found in a rear quarter-panel and inside the back seat, stuffed between the 
spring coils.

After the arrests, the two women and their children spent one night in jail 
before being released. Both men were held for 70 days, mostly in a prison 
in Algeciras. They were treated well and were twice visited by Canadian 
consular officials, who were helpful, David den Otter said.

After the men were released on bail, both couples were required to make 
twice-monthly trips from Tangier to Ceuta to check in with Spanish 
officials.  But they were never required to surrender their passports, 
making it possible for David den Otter to fly home to Canada last weekend 
for his business meetings.

 From the moment of the drug discovery, David den Otter and the others had 
insisted they were innocent.

But it was not an easy story to tell skeptical Spanish authorities.

"The challenge we've had from the very beginning is, what is for us the 
truth is the lie everybody else uses: 'They were not my drugs, I don't know 
how they got there, I know nothing about it.' They hear this daily."

But evidence began to stack up in their favour.

Spanish police investigators found that, based on their appearance, the 
drugs were old and had likely been in the van a long time. Then, tests 
revealed the hash had a low level of THC, the chemical which determines 
potency. THC levels decrease over time.

Also, it was established that the van had been seized in a major 
drug-smuggling bust five months before the den Otters bought it. In October 
2001, about 50 kilograms of hash were found in the van's engine compartment 
and near the fuel tank. The van had only been partially searched at that time.

The van was later purchased at a public auction by a man who then sold it 
to the den Otters.

David den Otter said he spent several thousand dollars on legal fees and 
did not feel capable of working to his full potential for more than two 
months after he got out of prison.

But he said he bears no ill will toward Spanish authorities.

"I am not interested really in damages per se because Spain has a very 
serious problem," he said.  "There is a massive problem with drugs crossing 
into Europe through Spain.

"I guess I can understand being arrested. A crime was committed; it 
was.  Drugs were being transported across that border and that's illegal.

"I just didn't have anything to do with it, aside from sticking a key in an 

He said he plans to sell the van after he gets it back but only because his 
growing family needs something bigger. 
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