This Tuesday, Senior magistrate Jade Ngan Chai King at the Moka court ruled in favour of Bruneau Laurette’s conditional liberation in the case of some 46 kgs of cannabis drugs found in his car boot at St Pierre four months ago. She stated, not unexpectedly, in her 15-page ruling that what must be carefully assessed is balancing the “need to safeguard the necessary respect for the liberty of the citizen” against the need to “ensure that society and the administration of justice are reasonably protected against serious risks”.
The magistrate’s reading of case law has it that in a law-abiding country, save for exceptional cases, deprivation of liberty on a provisional charge, when enquiries may drag on for months if not years in a serious case, can only be the exception and not the rule. To the argument that drug-related cases and suspects need to be kept confined, there are many conditions that can be attached by the magistrate to a release on bail order and indeed, in this particular case, the conditions imposed look pretty steep and designed to minimise risks of a possible elopement of the suspect. Two sureties of Rs 1m each, a “reconnaissance de dette” of Rs 50m and a series of physical restraints on his movements, should have adequately catered for any fear of elopement, interfering with witnesses or even evidence tampering.
The judgment was certainly a moral victory for the politico-social activist, his faithful followers and his lawyers as he had repeatedly claimed of having been allegedly “framed” by the Police Headquarters Special Striking Team (SST) and the drugs deliberately “planted” in his car boot. Those are charges that cannot be taken lightly. They are detailed in parallel to the main case in a claim for damages filed in the Supreme Court against the head of the SST and a Woman Police Officer.
We have here neither condoned drug trafficking nor assumed that Laurette’s claims are vindicated by numerous lapses and inconsistencies in the Police case as reported in the press. Still less can we accept that an accused is guilty without this being satisfactorily demonstrated in a court of law, pending which his prolonged detention for the unknown and unknowable duration of enquiries, is undesirable as the magistrate ruled this Tuesday.
However, that ruling is being appealed to the Supreme Court by the DPP’s office which had resisted the bail application and Bruneau Laurette will have to wait further before he knows whether he can enjoy the limited freedoms defined by the Moka magistrate. It is in nobody’s interest that a bail application after four months of deprivation should drag on when every type of rumours and allegations are rife about the continued detention of an uncomfortable political opponent. And to compound matters, the Bruneau Laurette case has suddenly and unexpectedly morphed into the far more disquieting Franklin affair, as revealed by the rather expeditious ICAC enquiries being initiated and conducted with some zeal on the money-laundering aspects of drug trade on the west coast.
We won’t speculate why the ICAC, rather remarkably, jumped into action when its mandate does not cover drug-trafficking but only the money-laundering that such illicit trade engineers. But obvious questions are being raised whether it effectively sidelined police drug agencies and if so why. A disturbing aspect of that case has been the various embarrassed official explanations, in particular by the Attorney-General why Franklin, condemned to seven years in Reunion for drug trafficking and demanded by French authorities, was roaming freely around the island for the past two years.
Most Mauritians are convinced that the lifestyle and visible assets of reported Franklin protagonists through the ICAC investigations, arrests and asset seizures (including fast luxury cars, fast boats, fast food outlets and luxuriously appointed properties), must or should have been known to our Police, National Coast Guard and financial (FIU) or intelligence surveillance (NSS) agencies.
Even a casual field officer would have reason to suspect that those acquisitions through a cohort of “prête-noms” could hardly be explained through normal business activities. If negligence in such a vital battle has to be dismissed, disturbing questions are being raised about how long such activities have been going on in our own Wild West and whether a level of protection or black money has ensured that notorious protagonists have managed to stay away from investigations here and an actual condemnation in Reunion island.
ICAC’s vigorous actions, deliberately or not, are bringing into question the trust of the higher authorities in those drug investigating agencies, a trust we might add that runs counter to the recommendations of the recent Lam Shang Leen (LSL) Report on drug trafficking in the case of ADSU.
Government’s assurances of taking the fight to drug barons has long been a mainstay of public declarations even as they balked at one of the key recommendations of LSL Report and assessors, namely the dismantling and reorganisation of ADSU. Whatever credit it may still possess, and there are no doubt numerous competent officers in their rank and file, is fast being eroded in the public perception by the ramifications of the Franklin drug-related affair as ICAC is clearly demonstrating.
Whether the ICAC’s actions, revelations and arrests are related to a turf war between competing agencies, the possibility that the West Coast, home to many fast boats that can outrun and outmanoeuvre any National Coast Guard or ground patrols as they ply about the lucrative dirty trade to and from Reunion or even Madagascar, has been allowed over probably many years to turn into a Wild West drug rodeo is mind-numbing. The population can start to wonder whether the statement of the Leader of the Opposition about Mauritius approaching a narco-state is that farfetched.
Once entrenched with tentacles spreading in many key institutions and monies flowing liberally to buy protection, that hydra-headed monster may require considerable effort for a determined Augean stable clean-up. It is a matter of national interest as the scourge spreads its nefarious influence on countless families, our youths and those already addicted.
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A value-led manifesto for change
Which leads us to consider whether the union of Opposition forces would present in their joint manifesto a key pledge for a determined stand and a more effective set of structures and policies to dampen if not rid our country of the money-spinning scourge of drug trafficking and its terrible impact throughout all villages and towns.
There is urgency for leaders to avoid the narrow view that our political class are first and foremost locked in behind-the-curtain discussions about the nitty-gritty of alliances and key posts. And this is probably why the LP, which is celebrating its 87th anniversary at the Octave Wiehe auditorium this Sunday, has a welcome opportunity to make its stance on a few of the key national issues clear.
With the benefit of experience that have highlighted shortcomings in many areas after 55 years of independence, one tends to believe that hammering out a consensus with traditional and some willing change-makers, on seven to ten key values of an Opposition alliance should not be beyond their democratic spaces.
While its fleshing out and other critical discussions take their course, a value-led manifesto for change should be on the cards earlier rather than later. The LP, as recognised locomotive of that putative alliance, has the responsibility to chart a way ahead that unites not only the Opposition forces but also galvanises the population around hopes and aspirations for renewal.
An Opposition, each with its own structures and internal cohesion to factor in, that still needs to marshal the energies and convictions of separate entities and interests across our constituencies, would do well to bank on a full year to project and market itself and its key policies in all households and get the fence-sitters on board.
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 24 February 2023
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