Lobo denies drug smuggling

| 21/08/2013

(CNS): A former Cayman Islands customs officer, David Lobo, stood before a seven panel jury in Grand Court Wednesday to give his account of the events that occurred on 8 September 2010 which led to the arrest of three men in London on the following day for the importation of cocaine from Cayman and ultimately his own arrest. Lobo (27) is charged with being involved in the smuggling by knowingly sending a fellow customs officer to deliver a bag containing the drugs concealed in Tortuga Rum Company cake boxes, along with some cigarettes. He denied the charges, stating that he knew nothing about the contraband contained in the usual duty free bags.

The jury of six women and one man heard from Crown Counsel Michael Snape that almost two kilosof cocaine were transported through Owen Roberts International Airport that day to the United Kingdom using the rum cakes as cover, after allegedly being retrieved from the customs office store room, where passengers' duty free goods are normally held.

In his evidence earlier this week, Customs Officer Bruce Powery told the court that Lobo had asked him to go to the strong room and give the large yellow Tortuga Rum Company shopping bag to Earl Reeves McLaughlin, a man who was later charged in the UK with smuggling offences. Powery was told that he would be waiting in the departure lounge. He told the court that Lobo had given a full description of the man's clothing and that once he'd delivered the bag containing the drugs, McLaughlin had a peculiar look on his face.

During the trial the jury heard that Powery was among the 32 customs officers on duty around the time that the smuggling occurred who were interviewed during a massive investigation in the customs department after the three men were arrested in Britain.

While he was on the stand during cross examination, Lobo told the court that he had difficulties remembering the events of that day because nothing had seemed out of the ordinary at the time before the men were arrested in London and because it was a considerably long time ago.

Snape suggested to the defendant that he had a selective memory and had changed his account of that day multiple times. The crown prosecutor also asked how he could forget to mention to the police when questioned that he'd given the direction for the delivery of the bag to McLaughlin, whom he'd described so accurately to Powery.

The defendant responded by asking, "Do you remember the lady in the red dress you were speaking to a few months ago?" inferring that it was common to make such mistakes or have difficulty recollecting things which seemed ordinary at the time.

Because Lobo’s fingerprints were found on the outer and inner surfaces of the Tortuga Rum Company bag containing the cocaine, the crown suggested this was reason to believe that he had handled the bag, despite his evidence that he had not. Crown counsel stated that the plan to conceal the drugs and transport them was effective but they needed an "inside man" in the customs department to seal the deal. Lobo disagreed with this suggestion and said his job was to stop the trafficking of illicit substances, such as in this case.

In the crown's closing arguments in its case against Lobo, Snape indicated that the defendant had asked Powery to hand over the drugs to McLaughlin because he did not want it to seem as though he had any involvement in the matter. Counsel also stated that Lobo's inconsistencies were not an issue of faded recollection but rather having a selective memory, and in being selective, he was changing his story because he had a guilty mind.

However, Lobo’s defence attorney, Trevor Burke, QC, told the jury that the crown had a lack of evidence to support the case against his client. "When you analyse the prosecution's case, all they really have is the fingerprints on the bag, which the defendant had eventually admitted to handling, and the word of a man," Burke said.

Because of the strenuous efforts made by the three smugglers to conceal the substance, Burke rejected any suggestion that they needed a customs officer's assistance. The men had used a false space in an additional suitcase carried by Luis Christian, one of the men charged in the British legal case, made from fiberglass and lined with carbon paper, which is understood to frustrate the X-ray machines. Burke said that after all their hard work of trying to defeat detection, the men would not have informed a person having such authority — a customs officer — of their sophisticated plan.

The defence also raised the point that Powery’s fingerprints were not recovered from the bag, even though he said he had not used protective gloves.

Burke suggested that Lobo was oblivious to the cocaine inside of the passenger's bag and therefore had no reason to hide his prints or make any efforts to exclude himself from any alleged involvement.

With the case drawing to a close Wednesday in Grand Court Five, the presiding judge was expected to sum up the case for the jury on Thursday morning.

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