Rumour has it that three residents of the South Okanagan – Similkameen are tied to a major drug bust off the New Caledonian coast earlier this year.
After more than five weeks in detention, there could also be a question of human rights infringement, as it appears that little is being done by French authorities to move three arrested Canadians through the French territory’s justice system.
The arrest of the three Canadians made headlines throughout the South Pacific in early April after a press release was issued by the Australian Federal Police (AFP).
On March 31, a vessel discovered sailing off the New Caledonian coast was boarded by New Caledonian authorities after receiving intelligence from U.S. and Australian security services. The vessel reportedly had been sailing “erratically” and its movements had been under scrutiny for months.
Upon search of the vessel, 200 kilograms of cocaine, with a reported street value ranging from $70 – $200 million, was found.
The three Canadians have been charged with a range of offences. In Sydney, Australia, the Canadian consulate is currently working through Australian diplomatic channels to provide consular assistance to the trio, who could face stiff sentences if tried under French law in New Caledonia.
Members of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had apparently been watching the vessel for several weeks. The seizure was part of a joint international effort known as “operation Saba,” on the part of the U.S. DEA, the Armed Forces in New Caledonia, (FANC) and the Australian Federal Police.
The boat, which was not registered, allegedly left a port in South America.
On March 31, the vessel was located off the north west coast of New Caledonia where it was intercepted by a New Caledonian military vessel and a helicopter.
The 200-kilogram shipment of cocaine represents the largest drug bust in New Caledonian history, and the joint operation is considered to be a major coup for anti drug forces in the South Pacific.
“It’s just a first and it is huge. After several weeks of investigation, customs and military have successfully intercepted on Saturday morning off the main island, a sailboat with on board 200 kilos of cocaine,” translates the French headline in the New Caledonian, Noumea’s only daily newspaper.
“This demonstrates that geography is not an impediment to the AFP regarding our ability to disprupt the flow of narcotics into Australia,” declared Australian Assistant Commissioner Kevin Zaccato.
On May 9, the Review contacted New Caledonian Attorney General Claire Lanet. She told the Review that three Canadians – two male, one female – were in detention at New Caledonia’s only prison.
A-G Lanet also informed the Review that the three Canadians face “numerous charges” related to possession and trafficking of narcotics. They could all be facing life sentences. She refused to identify the three.
According to Lanet, the accused have not yet made a court appearance, and she couldn’t say when or where that might happen, indicating that there was a possibility the case might be tried in France.
Ian Trites, Media Spokesperson for the Canadian Consulate in Ottawa told the Review on May 4 that the three Canadians were being provided with consular assistance out of the Australian consulate in Canberra, through a Canada-Australia Consular Services Sharing Agreement.
Neither the Canadian Consulate, the Australian Federal Police, nor the U.S. DEA would reveal the identity of the arrested Canadians.
Repeated calls to Attorney General Lanet for further information on May 14 went unanswered.
About Camp Est Prison, Noumea – New Caledonia’s only prison for both genders
The infamous Camp Est, has been singled out by the International Observatory for Prisons as “a reflection of the worst in terms of detention.” Frank Brunner, spokesperson for the IOP, said “There are many reports about this prison. It’s very dirty.”
The prison, built for 200 inmates, currently holds more than 400.