Pubdate: Mon, 03 Oct 2005
Source: Jamaica Observer (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2005 The Jamaica Observer Ltd,
Author: Lloyd Williams, Observer senior writer
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


Jamaica's Supreme Court will begin a hearing this week on whether a
Jamaican national declared a 'drug kingpin' by the American president
can be assured of a fair trial if extradited to the United States to
answer drug trafficking charges.

This critical point of law will be argued before the Full Court -
comprising Justices Lensley Wolfe, Mahadev Dukharan and Lloyd Hibbert
- - on motions brought by Montego Bay businessmen Leebert Ramcharan and
Donovan "Plucky" Williams, both of whom were ordered extradited more
than a year ago by a Kingston magistrate, Martin Gayle. Both had asked
for a judicial review of the June 2004 extradition order. Small. ruled
that Bahamian Samuel Knowles could not be assured a fair trial in the

It is expected, too, that the hearing will skirt - if not fully delve
into - the issue of the constitutionality of Jamaica's extradition law
itself - a question that has been raised by another drug accused,
Adrian Armstrong, who has been fighting an attempt to extradite him to
the US.

Essentially, Armstrong is arguing that a law like the Extradition Act
needs to be passed by a special majority of Parliament and demands
specific time periods between its tabling and debate.

But the fundamental issue before the Full Court is the impact to a
legal proceeding abroad of being named a drug kingpin. Just ahead of
his extradition order, Ramcharan and another Montego Bay businessman,
Norris "Dedo" Nembhard, had made US president George W Bush's
international "drug kingpin" list, a categorisation that not only
marks individuals as significant drug traffickers, but triggers the
freezing of their assets in the United States and prevents American
firms from doing business with companies that they own.

The legal fairness of the "kingpin" mark has raised significant debate
in Jamaica and elsewhere. Critics say that it prejudices the right of
the accused to an impartial trial, a position with which Hugh Small, a
Jamaican who sits on the Bahamian bench, agreed earlier this year in a
case involving Samuel 'Ninety' Knowles.

Knowles, who had Jamaican connections, was held more than three years
ago in an operation involving Jamaican, US, Bahamian and Dominican law
enforcement agents. He is now serving a jail sentence in the Bahamas,
but the Americans also want to extradite him to face narcotics
trafficking charges there.

However, Small, a former Jamaican lawyer and politician, ruled that
Knowles could not be assured a fair trial in the US, with President
Bush having named him a "drug kingpin". The Bahamian authorities are
set to appeal the ruling. Since 1999, the United States Government has
been compiling annually, a list of groups and individuals it alleges
are involved in the drug trade.

Those on the list are barred from conducting business with the US
Government, its citizens and US companies. In addition, designated
individuals and immediate family members who have "knowingly
benefited" from the designated individuals' illicit activities are
denied visas to the United States.

The Kingpin Act provides for criminal penalties of up to 10 years'
imprisonment for individuals and up to US$10 million in fines for
entities, for violations. On March 3, 2005, the US placed four of
Ramcharan's Montego Bay companies on its blacklist, freezing their
assets and prohibiting US companies from doing business with them. The
companies - Caribbean Beach Park, Caribbean Showpiece Ltd, Ramcharan
Brothers Ltd, and Ramcharan Ltd - have been added to the Foreign
Narcotics Kingpin sanctions list maintained by the US Department of
the Treasury and other American government agencies.

Ramcharan and Williams were arrested by the Jamaica Fugitive
Apprehension Team, supported by the Special Operations Division of the
US Drug Enforcement Administration. They were picked up during
"Operation Alcatraz", a multinational, multi-jurisdictional
wire-intercept operation targeting drug transportation organisations
based on the North Coast of Colombia and in Jamaica.

The local organisations were allegedly headed by Ramcharan and his
British-based brother Norman Ramcharan. Norman Ramcharan was jailed in
Britain last November for seven years, following his conviction for
money laundering. The DEA listed Ramcharan as a "Regional Priority
Organisation Target ("RPOT"), and his brother, who was arrested in the
UK, as a "National Priority Organisation Target ("NPOT"). In the
Jamaican phase of the operation, four other Jamaicans and five
Colombians were arrested on extradition warrants.

Overall, Operation Alcatraz is reported by the DEA to have resulted in
the arrest in the UK, Colombia, Jamaica and Panama of 59 suspects, the
seizure of 10,710 kilos of cocaine and US$513,000, with an additional
US$5 million in assets related to the suspects being targeted for
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