PHILIPSBURG–A customs officer was sentenced to seven years imprisonment after being convicted of trafficking 268kg of cocaine into St. Maarten. This was one year less than the demand of the Prosecutor.
Nestor Sanchez (47) had been a customs officer for 23 years, both in Curaçao and in St. Maarten, when he was arrested for the offence.
On January 30, 2014, the cocaine was found on board an Insel Air flight from Curaçao. Customs officers checked the flight and found 28 boxes containing 268kg of a white substance, which tested as cocaine.
The court described how Sanchez had used a coded messaging system talking to his colleague and co-accused A.M.E.L. by telephone about washing cars, including messages about the day of the transport, just after arrival of the flight, where Sanchez was informed that the car was “very dirty,” and could not be washed.
L. was on duty as supervisor at the time that the flight arrived. A 100 per cent control policy had been put into place for flights from Curaçao that day. L was also arrested and interviewed for the offence; however, as he had to go abroad for medical treatment, the case against him will be heard separately.
Sanchez was observed hanging around in the arrival hall for two hours after the flight arrived; this was deemed suspicious. Before his arrest, Sanchez was in Curaçao where he had contact with local customs officers. Two days prior to the arrival of the drugs in St. Maarten he had been seen speaking to staff at Swissport Cargo.
The judge stated in his verdict that “transporting large quantities of cocaine by plane would only be possible by avoiding regular checkpoints. There is no doubt that one or more people working for Swissport Cargo Services in Curaçao, airport police in Curaçao and/or customs in Curaçao and St. Maarten must have been actively involved with the transport, with knowledge of the content.
Although the court conceded that the offence would have only been possible with the cooperation of others membership of a criminal organisation could not be proven, as there was no evidence of previous transports. Membership of a criminal organisation implies the organisation of offences over a period of time, and this was not proven.
In giving his verdict, the judge pointed out that Sanchez had been with the Customs Department in Curaçao and St. Maarten for 23 years, making him a “spider in the web.”
The judge pointed out that drug trafficking in itself is a serious offence; however, the fact that Sanchez is a customs officer makes it even more serious and that he, the accused, has done the worst thing a civil servant can do by shaming the trust placed upon him by society.
“He is the rotten apple in the basket. He has hurt the good name and image of the customs department, and has hurt his own colleagues who do their jobs each day with honesty and integrity.” The judge went on to say that a long, unconditional prison sentence fits this crime, taking into account the background of the suspect.
The judge also took into account the fact that Sanchez had no previous convictions. He sentenced Sanchez to seven years imprisonment, and ordered confiscation of three mobile phones which were seized during the investigation.
Bron: Daily Herald