MANILA -- Two Canadian nationals were sentenced to life imprisonment Wednesday on charges of illegal possession of shabu and other illegal drugs worth around PHP100 million during simultaneous raids in the cities of Makati and Taguig in 2014.
In an 11-page ruling, Makati City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 63 Acting Presiding Judge Selma Palacio Alaras said the accused, James Clayton Riach and Ali Memar Mortazavi Shirazi, had been found "guilty beyond reasonable doubt" for possession of methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu.
Aside from the life imprisonment, Alaras also ordered Riach and Shirazi to pay PHP500,000 fine each.
The court also directed the forfeiture of the shabu in favor of the government and the same be turned over to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency for disposition.
“The point of contention in this case is whether the accused are guilty of possession of dangerous drugs found in Unit 3803 of Gramercy Residences,” the decision read
“After due assessment of the facts and evidence adduced, the Court is of the considered view that there is basis to support a finding of guilt against both accused for illegal possession of methamphetamine hydrochloride, also known as shabu, found in Unit 3803,” it added.
The two were arrested in a drug raid conducted by National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agents on Unit 3803 of the Gramercy Residences on Kalayaan Avenue on January 15, 2014.
Simultaneous operations conducted by the bureau on The Luxe Residences and One Serendra condominiums in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig, led to the seizure of PHP100 million worth of “shabu” or methamphetamine hydrochloride, cocaine and ecstasy pills.
Riach had denied the accusation against him, saying the test-buy operation was "all made up and fabricated for reason of physical impossibility," as he claimed he was at a Makati police station and at the Makati prosecutor's office at the time of the operation he was said to have received the search warrant against him.
Shirazi, meanwhile, had said he was only a visitor at the condominium unit where the search took place.
Alaras did not give credit to the claim of Riach that the test-buy operation conducted by the NBI was all made up and fabricated for reason of physical impossibility.
The two Canadians also argued that the case against them should have been dismissed considering that the Court of Appeals (CA) has quashed the search warrant and ordered the junking of the case against the occupants of Room 301 of Luxe Residences, who were arrested on the same day there were arrested.
In junking the arguments Riach, the trial court held that the latter failed to overcome the strict requirement of physical impossibility as a defense considering the short distance from the Makati City Central Police Station to his unit in Gramercy Residences which can be traveled for about five minutes if walking and even less using a private car.
“The short distance and the facility of access available to Riach do not render it physically impossible for him to have been in Gramercy Residences at about 3 p.m.,” the trial court held.
Furthermore, the trial court said the positive identification by prosecution witnesses should be given more weight than the accused’s alibi.
“His positive identification that he sold the poseur-buyer dangerous drugs in Unit 3803 cannot overcome his alibi of physical impossibility…,” the Makati RTC ruled.
In the case of Shirazi, the trial court pointed out that his being a visitor to the unit is immaterial to the case.
It explained that the fact that the illegal drugs were found within his reach made him liable for possession of the same.
With regard to the CA decision quashing the search warrant conducted on the Luxe Residences, the trial court maintained that the same cannot be applied in the case of the two Canadians.
“While the courts may take judicial notice of its own acts and records in the same case, as a rule, courts are not authorized to take judicial notice of the contents of the records of other cases, even when such cases have been tried or are pending in the same court, and notwithstanding the fact that both cases may have been heard or are actually pending before the same judge,” the trial court explained. (PNA)