JO - Court orders aircraft seized in drug bust returned
Court orders aircraft seized in drug bust returned
BY PAUL HENRY Observer writer
Thursday, December 21, 2006
The Court of Appeal on Monday ordered the return of an aircraft - seized during a drug bust last September in St Elizabeth - to its Bahamian owner, noting that the evidence for forfeiture was insufficient.Dr Bertram Sears' US$130,000 (J$8.58 million) twin propeller Beechraft Baron C55 aircraft was ordered forfeited after it was used to traffic 880 pounds of ganja from Nassau, Bahamas to the south coast parish of St Elizabeth on September 16, 2005.
The forfeiture of the aircraft was ordered by Resident Magistrate Andrea Thomas, after Bahamian Bradley McKay pleaded guilty on January 17 this year to drug-related charges and a charge of illegal entry into Jamaica.
McKay was fined $82,000 or six months' imprisonment and was also jailed for 16 months for attempting to export ganja.
Sears, who lives in Nassau, Bahamas, denied involvement in the illegal operation, noting that his aircraft was taken without his consent from the Nassau International Airport, where it was undergoing repairs.
Attorney David Batts argued before Justices Paul Harrison, Algernon Smith and Horace Marsh that the RM's forfeiture ruling was unlawful and that an owner with an aircraft undergoing repairs at a secure location was not obligated to make "daily or weekly" personal checks on their craft.
"It was reasonable in my view to believe, as the appellant seems to have done, that the aeroplane in the custody of the repairer... in a hangar at an international airport would be secure from the hands of miscreants likely to use it for illegal activity," Marsh wrote in the ruling.