Video drug trial

Funchal Court hearing delayed

Funchal Court, where the trial is being heldThe Diario reports that the trial of 14 foreigners accused of belonging to an international cocaine trafficking network was due to start this morning, at the Funchal Court, under unprecedented conditions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the separation of magistrates, lawyers and defendants – who are in custody in Portugal and Spain. In total, the participants will be distributed over eight different places, most of which will accompany the audience through videoconference.

The trial was supposed to start at 9:15 but was reported online to be late. The lawyers are already in the three courtrooms of the court, but this, which is the first session of the trial, has not yet started due to the difficulty in contacting one of the two defendants who are in Spain. It only started at 11:15 am, two hours late and a lot due to technical connection problems.

Questioned by journalists at the Palace of Justice, the presiding judge of the Madeira District, Paulo Barreto, says that all possibilities were considered but explained that the trial could not be postponed under penalty of jeopardizing the freedom of the defendants who await justice in preventive detention.

“No judge likes to judge defendants from the prison, people are judged in the courts that are the home of rights, but in these circumstances and given the times that we are going through, the concern is to guarantee all the procedural rights of the defendants and, in this respect, I think we are calm”, declared Paulo Barreto.

The magistrate explained that the trial of foreign people, accused of being linked to an international drug trafficking network, required exceptional security measures that, in pandemic times due to the risk of contagion from COVID-19, would not guarantee social distance.

The option followed by the Court of Funchal ensures that all defendants attend the trial in the presence of their lawyers, who can be contacted by phone. “They are in preventive detention, there was no other way”, pointed out the presiding judge of the Madeira District, reacting to the protest that some lawyers expressed to journalists, at the entrance to the court.

“We are sure that there is no violation of any procedural right of the accused and no one prevents the defendant from speaking on the phone with the lawyer,” replied Paulo Barreto, recalling that the trial is taking place in a historic period of pandemic. “It is necessary to see that we are in exceptional times, either postponing the trial or advancing in these conditions that are not ideal,” said the judge, recognizing that “nobody wants to be tried in jail but given the circumstances it must be so”.

Asked about the possibility of the Court requesting a wider space that would allow all the intervening parties to be present, magistrates, lawyers and defendants, Paulo Barreto explained that the Comarca da Madeira does not have the financial means to, for example, rent a larger space.

As the Diario reported in today’s printed edition that magistrates and bailiffs had had to use their imagination to prepare the logistics of a trial that will be accompanied, simultaneously, in three courtrooms, two jails and three defendants’ homes, all of this distributed over five cities in Portugal and Spain.

In one of the largest courtrooms at the Palace of Justice will be the panel of judges chaired by Carla Meneses, attorney Paul Oliveira and four lawyers. They will all use a visor and/or mask.

But as it is necessary to guarantee a minimum distance of 2 metres between each intervenient, eight more lawyers follow the hearing, by videoconference, in two other rooms of the same court.

Ten defendants who are in pre-trial detention will accompany the trial by videoconference from the Cancela jail auditorium. There is another who is imprisoned in the Tires jail (Greater Lisbon). Three defendants are under house arrest in Madrid, Corunna and the Canary Islands and will be heard via Skype. Hearings are scheduled for today and tomorrow.

As te Diario had reported on Saturday, the 14 foreigners who are on trial are accused of belonging to a chain that transported cocaine from South America to the European continent. The drug was carried in the luggage of passengers on cruise ships and was unloaded at island ports, then sent by air to European countries.

The group that now comes to court was arrested on March 24, 2019 in possession of 11.6 kilos of cocaine during a stopover by the ‘MSC Opera’ cruise ship in Funchal port.

The prosecution’s prosecution, based on the investigation by the PJ and information from the National Crime Agency (United Kingdom), says that the group, made up almost entirely of South Americans, appealed to individuals with great mobility in European countries (Spain, United Kingdom, Holland and Germany) to disguise their travel and drug trafficking activity.

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