A French court has ordered that the convictions against three men found guilty of smuggling over half a tonne of cocaine on a British registered boat be dropped because of a loophole in European law.
The court ruled that the European Court of human rights makes it clear that the men should have been immediately presented to a judge at the first opportunity, and because they instead had to wait two days, the case against them and any evidence gathered – including the cocaine – were null and void.
They were originally arrested in October 2017 when the French Navy boarded and inspected the sailing boat, the Amira Najia, and allegedly found 600 kilogrammes (1,323 lbs) of cocaine on board, hidden under the flooring.
At their original trial in June 2018, in Noumea, in the French overseas territory of New Caledonia, in the Pacific Ocean, they were jailed for between 7 and 9 years each.
Explaining why the defendants, who have not been named, have had their convictions overturned, Barbara Brunard, the lawyer of the Polish defendant, is quoted in local media as saying: “After being at sea for three days, they arrived on Caledonian soil on 23rd October. They should have been presented to a judge immediately, according to the law. However, they only saw one two days later, on 25th October.”
She added: “The court essentially based itself on the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights. The consequence is that the whole customs procedure and their interrogation are cancelled and all the evidence has to be removed from the case.”
She concluded: “My client and the other people are therefore today presumed innocent.”
The three will be retried by a Paris appeals court although it is unclear what evidence, if any, will be allowed to be presented.
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