Cocaine traffickers released after “record 1.800 kg haul”

The public ministry is reported to be appealing an extraordinary decision by Leiria judges to release five fishermen caught on the high-seas transporting a record haul of 1.800 kg of cocaine – worth almost a billion euros.

When the haul was seized in 2015, PJ police gave a victorious press conference in which much was made of the collaboration with United States drug enforcement authorities.

But two years down the line, the judge handing out suspended sentences told the court that possibly the men were leaving “in a way they hadn’t imagined.

“From now on they have to show that they want nothing to do with these kind of things.

“I understand that it must be tempting to receive in a few hours what they would have received for working very hard, but the cocaine could have reached its destination and killed one or two people – and these men would have been responsible”.

The lead judge added that the decision has not yet been officially passed, and thus the men’s freedom “may not be definitive”.

As Correio da Manhã intimates, this is a story that leaves a lot hanging in the air – much of smelling distinctly fishy.

Tiago Melo Alves, the lawyer representing three of the fishermen told journalists afterwards that the whole case had been a “farce, like many that we unfortunately have to deal with in processes of this nature.

“After a great deal of work by the defence with the complete openness of the court – which was keen to discover the truth – we came to realise that nothing was what it appeared.

“This was a police operation, and not what we thought at the beginning.

“The police gave them the drugs, left them to travel some distance, and then arrested them.

“If the men had wanted to, they could never have managed to get the drug to its destination”, he said – adding that the “difference between the quantity of cocaine given to the PJ by the DEA (US drug enforcement administration) and the amount ‘seized’ was 112 kg, which “still today is in parts uncertain”.

Whether the Public Ministry really does appeal the men’s sentences will come clear over time. CM suggests it will be challenging “not only the prison terms but the decision to return the fishing boat used for the transportation of the drugs to its owner”.

For now, the men will be just delighted it looks like it could be all over.

Tiago Melo Alves called the judges’ decision “important for justice and the truth”.

The court explained that it did not consider that ‘trafficking’ had been the mens’ crime, and reduced the charges to ‘attempted trafficking’, given that the men “never had effective control of the drug”.

Suspended sentences given ranged from four years and nine months to five (the boat owner).

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