Mega cocaine shipment on Insel Air:  Veteran customs officer pleads his innocence on drug charges

POSTED: 12/15/14 10:34 PM

St. Maarten:   “I am innocent. I want to go home,” customs officer Nestor Gregorio Sanchez told the judges in the Common ‘Court of Justice yesterday. On September 10, the Court in First Instance described Sanchez as “the rotten apple in the basket” and sent him to jail for 7 years for his involvement in a 268 kilos cocaine transport on an Insel Air flight from Curacao to St. Maarten. Yesterday, Solicitor-General An Angela asked the court to confirm this sentence during an appeal hearing. The court pronounces its verdict on December 30.

The appeal hearing was a repeat of the trial in First Instance. It appeared that Sanchez had been in contact with people on the receiving end about the transport, speaking in hopelessly amateurish coded language about “washing cars.” If the car were clean, everything would be in order; if it was dirty, there would be trouble. And trouble there was.

The drugs arrived at Princess Juliana International Airport on January 30 on an Insel Air flight; Sanchez was on the same flight. According to the prosecution, the drugs have a value of $3 million in St. Maarten; their street value in the Dominican Republic or the United States – the possible destinations for the drugs – would be between $15 and $20 million.

The organizers of the transport hid the drugs in a shipment of clothing. The original shipping papers listed 18 boxes of clothing, but the gang somehow managed to add ten boxes filled with cocaine to it.

The investigation started based on a so-called lead letter from the American drug administration agency based in Curacao. The content of that letter cannot be used as evidence in court, but for investigators it offered sufficient suspicions against Sanchez to start tapping his phone and to put him under observation.

While Sanchez pleaded his innocence again yesterday, he did not offer any reasonable explanation for the phone conversations he had had with others involved in the transport.

Solicitor-General Angela noted that the phone taps, the observations and the 100 percent control at the airport in St. Maarten where the drugs flight arrived at 11.45 on January 30, has all yielded incriminating information. Angela constructed the basis for his demand of 7 years from the connection between all pieces of the puzzle.

Attorney Marije Vaders had of course a different opinion. “It is not possible to convict based on the available evidence,” she said. “My client had no knowledge of the drugs, he never saw them or touched them. This is based on assumptions. There is no concrete evidence.” Vaders said that the demand of 7 years is much too high and asked the court to acquit her client.

Sanchez, 47, is a 23-year veteran of the Customs Department. The Court in First Instance considered him as “the spider in the web” because of his extensive network.

“There is no doubt that several employees of the company Swiss port Cargo Services in Curacao, the airport police in Curacao and / or the customs in Curacao and St. Maarten must have been actively involved in the transport,” the court wrote in nits ruling in September. An investigation into the leaks at the two airports is ongoing.

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