Transforming year for drug enforcement in Seychelles |29 December 2017
The year 2017 brought increasing forceful factors encouraging considerable changes within the management and existence of the main institution involved in the fight against illegal drugs in Seychelles. The National Drugs Enforcement Agency, commonly known as NDEA, received new leadership with three Seychellois replacing the Irish nationals who were at the head of this law enforcement agency since 2008. The NDEA was to celebrate its 10th Anniversary next year 2018 but ceased to exist through an Act that was approved by the National Assembly of Seychelles and assented to by President Danny Faure in October 2017. This came about upon the nomination of NDEA’s chief officer Kishnan Labonte as the new Commissioner of Police and with that the entire resources of this institution were merged within the Seychelles Police Department structure on November 1, 2017.
Police and ANB – working in tandem in the fight against drugs
Irish leave NDEA, Seychellois take over
The NDEA was initially set up in 2008 to lead and coordinate efforts to combat illegal drug related offences in Seychelles and by now every family understands that narcotics brings calamity to anyone without any form of discrimination as it preys on its victims. The entire population shares a growing concern on the gravity of the drug problem burdening such a small country with a fast growing economy. A number of criticisms have been thrown at the agency by the public throughout the years, ranging from allegations of corruption to malpractice. In February 2017 the Irish nationals occupying the leading positions in NDEA and Seychelles Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) vacated their posts and left the country.
When Mr Labonte was nominated and took over as chief officer of NDEA in March 2017, he highlighted that one of his focus in leading changes in this agency would be training and retraining. To date a total of 23 NDEA staff have participated in overseas training notably Italy, the United States of America, India, Botswana and Kenya. An additional total of 31 staff have been able to partake in local training which were conducted by foreign tutors of significant regional and international partners to Seychelles law enforcement institutions.
These training courses extended from managerial modules to tactical operational procedures both on land and at sea. The NDEA chief in his approach also considered that the mandate of the NDEA is an on-going fight which the agency by itself will not win, that everyone need to identify themselves to this great challenge. With him leading this agency as deputy chief officer were Romano Songor and Ted Barbe who were nominated to assist him with specific responsibilities in the operational and investigative functions of the agency.
New management, new approaches
Soon after they took office the new NDEA management brought a new approach into vigour, NDEA agents conducted joint operations (‘Netwayaz’ operations) with police officers collaboratively arresting drug suspects which resulted into an increase in the rate of arrests made and illegal drugs seized. Somehow during the month of August 2017 there was a lack of narcotics on the market causing its price to almost triple and this got many heroin addicts to report to the Seychelles Hospital for medical assistance.
The NDEA recognises that there is growing international consensus that anti-narcotics programmes must be designed and implemented with the aim of improving the health and safety of individuals in preventing and reducing violence and other crimes within our communities. It is also a shared vision that international efforts must be strengthened through strong engagement between nations at regional and international level. In the year 2017 the NDEA chief headed several groups of delegation on numerous overseas missions with the objective of maintaining or creating new ties in the fight against narcotics.
In April 2017 President Danny Faure visited Kenya and agreed together with President Kenyatta that Seychelles and Kenya are to strengthen regional partnership and cooperation in mutually important areas such as the fight against narcotics among others. Mr Labonte formed part of the presidential delegation and met the officer in charge of Anti-Narcotics Unit of Kenya to renew the collaboration and working relationship that exist between the two countries. Fruits of such collaboration were realised when Colin and Gina Forte were arrested on Thursday September 28, 2017 by the Kenyan authorities on the border between Kenya and Tanzania with fake travel documents. They were handed over to NDEA agents on Sunday October 1, 2017 on a Kenya Airways flight from Nairobi. The couple had been wanted by the NDEA since May 2015 in connection with a significant amount of heroin which was imported and seized by the agency in October 2014; they are both presently being remanded at the Montagne Posée Prison as the case progresses.
Major drug cases in court
Among the many active cases in court there are presently a number of significant ones, especially in respect to the amount of drugs involved.
In the Charita case there were eleven Iranians who were initially charged before the Supreme Court with various offences related to controlled drugs. Eight were later released and repatriated leaving the remaining three other Iranian nationals, the captain, the son of the ship’s owner and a sailor still on remand with maintained charges against them. The judgment in this case will be delivered early in 2018.
There are presently four men on remand in the ongoing court case with reference to the 36kg of cannabis resin seized at Anse Forbans by the NDEA agents in August 2017.
In one of the most talked about cases for 2017, the NDEA on May 30, 2017 arrested a 35-year-old male hotel general manager and his parents in the Bel Ombre district after the NDEA agents searched and seized a total of 4.5kg of herbal cannabis, 50 cannabis plants and a modified room containing multiple items believed to be for the purpose of growing and manufacturing other controlled drugs. They were all charged in this case and were released on cash bail with several conditions while the case remains active in court.
A former NDEA agent, Derrick Clarisse, was sentenced to 6 years and 12 years imprisonment (concurrently) before the Supreme Court in May 2017 after he was arrested in July 2016 during an NDEA operation at La Gogue in possession of a total of 426.49 grammes of heroin, a digital scale and R151,000.
François Michel Souffe, a skipper of Pointe Larue and George Julienne, a diver of Bel Ombre were both convicted early in December 2017 on several counts of offences for the importation of 37.2804kg of herbal cannabis and 990 grammes of cannabis resin in the August 2013 'AMARA' drug case.
NDEA chief becomes Commissioner of Police, NDEA changed to Anti-Narcotics Bureau under Police
The bill for the National Drugs Enforcement Agency (NDEA) (Repeal) Act, 2017 was tabled before the National Assembly on October 11, 2017 for approval so that its functions can be integrated within the Police Department. The main objective behind this move was to maximise resources and also to have better coordination in law enforcement with the roles and functions of this agency falling directly under the supervision of the Commissioner of Police.
In commending the work the NDEA has done in the country even under many criticisms, the not so easy and dangerous conditions they have worked under where even their children or family were threatened, the majority of the National Assembly members voted in favour of the bill.
They had words of thanks for the men and women of NDEA who took on a job most would not venture into. The Act was assented to by the President on October 15, 2017 taking effect on November 1, 2017.
With the integration, the then NDEA is now called the Anti-Narcotics Bureau (ANB) within the Police Department under the Visible Policing and Specialised Operations branch headed by Deputy Commissioner of Police Romano Songor. The Deputy Commissioner of Police for Investigation and Personnel Development Ted Barbe still oversees the investigation unit of the Anti-Narcotics Bureau as it was previously the case.
Better hope for law enforcement
The extensive experience these three motivated men have gathered in law enforcement over their years of service rendered to the republic is proving to be contributing effectively towards the success of not only the ANB but the entire Police Department.
In achieving the principal objective of prosecuting narcotics offenders the ANB needs to gather enough intelligence and apply integrated investigation strategies over long period of time and often use expensive resources. It is not as simple as saying a person has two cars and we go and seize them.
However the ANB alone is unable to solve all the narcotics problems in this country, members of the general public are to be considered as the first partner for they are the recipients of ANB’s actions and reactions, of how we interact with them. They are to be seen as the first ones to assist the bureau in its mandate; they are the eyes and ears in the communities where law enforcement is most needed. The new agency under secretary of state Dr Patrick Herminie responsible for drug abuse and rehabilitation is key in reducing the demand of drugs as ANB strives to reduce the supply.
The future of Seychelles is at stake if we allow ourselves to hibernate for only one day or keep only one eye open while we fight narcotics in the communities and most importantly at the borders. Moreover, the exchange of information among nations and between professionals engaged in reducing narcotics trafficking and efforts to stay ahead of new and threatening developments, such as synthetic substances abuse, are central to effective global progression. The Anti-Narcotics Bureau remains focused and agile in its roles and duties in an ever dynamic world threatened by the scourge of narcotics.