Customs officer’s drug trial begins

A Cayman Islands Customs officer appeared in court Monday charged with being involved in exporting cocaine hidden in rum cake boxes from Cayman to the United Kingdom.

Trial began in Grand Court on Monday for Customs officer David Karl Lobo.

The charge arose from an incident in September 2010, crown counsel Michael Snape told a jury of six women and one man.

The cocaine got through the Owen Roberts International Airport in Grand Cayman on board a British Airways flight to Nassau and on to London, Mr. Snape said. The crown’s case is that officer Lobo was at the airport at the time and was knowingly involved.

A witness statement by an officer of the UK Border Agency said three men on the flight were stopped by authorities in London. A false bottom in the suitcase of Lewis Christian was shown to conceal four kilos of cocaine.

Christian said a duty-free bag he was carrying belonged to Earl Reeves McLaughlin and McLaughlin agreed. The bag contained 200 Benson and Hedges cigarettes, a bottle of rum and four boxes labelled as Tortuga rum cake. All boxes were sealed. Inside each was a taped cellophane package containing what proved to be cocaine. The total weight was 1.452 kilos.

They and Norrie Nolan Solomon-Hydes were taken into custody.

Trevor Burke, Lobo’s attorney, told the court that the three men did appear in court and pleaded guilty. “They are convicted smugglers,” he said.

Mr. Snape asked how the 1.4 kilos of cocaine in the rum cake boxes got through the airport. The crown’s case was that Lobo knew about the plan. The yellow plastic bag with the rum cake boxes made its way into the Customs strong room, to be taken to McLaughlin in the departure lounge just before the flight.

He said the defendant waited around the airport after his shift ended and had customs officer Bruce Powery deliver the bag to the man he described.

After the London arrests became known in Cayman, Lobo was asked if his fingerprints would match any of the prints found on the bag. His reply was “Absolutely not.” However, prints matching his were found on the outside and inside of the bag and outside at least one of the cake boxes.

“You will also hear what he told his then-girlfriend about what he was doing at the airport,” Mr. Snape advised the jury.

One of Monday’s witnesses was customs officer Bruce Powery, who agreed he was the man who delivered the bag to McLaughlin. He said David Lobo asked him to. Mr. Powery told the court he had been suspended for one year and two months after the incident. He went back to work a few weeks after being informed that his fingerprints were not on the bag.

Mr. Burke asked if he had worn gloves. The witness said no; he showed how he would have slipped his hand through the handles of the bag.

The trial was scheduled to continue on Tuesday with a witness giving evidence via video link. Justice Malcolm Swift is presiding.

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