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Two suspects in firearms, ammunition and terrorism-related investigation in remand |31 December 2021

Two further suspects arrested in connection with the arms, ammunition and alleged conspiracy to commit terrorism matter before the Supreme Court are to remain in remand custody until January 28, 2022, when they will reappear before court.

The two were arrested on Wednesday December 29, and they are 75-year-old retired Brigadier and former Chief of the Seychelles People’s Defence Forces (SPDF) Leopold Payet, and 81-year-old retired lieutenant colonel and presidential chief security officer Frank Marie.

According to the remand application filed by the prosecutor Nissa Thompson, both were arrested as part of the ongoing investigation by the police on Wednesday December 29, following investigations into the discovery of an extensive cache of weapons and ammunition at the residence of Mukesh and Laura Valabhji, who are also facing money laundering and official corruption charges.

Mrs Thompson informed court that as a result of the ongoing investigation into the disappearance of US $50 million by the Anti-Corruption Commission Seychelles (ACCS), some 80,000 documents were seized, inclusive of a file containing various documents relating to the large quantity of firearms, and which allegedly incriminate the two suspects.

Allegedly, the documents show a paper trail detailing consignments of firearms and ammunition entering the country from Bulgaria, Switzerland, South Africa and Russia in 2004, 2006, 2012 and 2013, with the documents showing bank transactions and payments between the SPDF, and arms and ammunition companies in the mentioned countries.

Mrs Thompson went further to state that the documents also include correspondence between the first suspect (Leopold Payet) and the countries of importation; the amount of firearms being imported; financial transactions such as mode of payment; details on how the firearms would enter Seychelles; who was responsible for taking over the arms and the serial numbers of the firearms and ammunition.

Furthermore, the prosecution noted that the first suspect (Leopold Payet) authorised the second (Frank Marie) to be responsible for the arms, with a specific consignment purposed for late former President France Albert Rene’s personal bodyguards. The consignment for the President allegedly include: 25 AK-47 assault rifles and 4,000 rounds of ammunition, 10 AKS-74U and 4,000 rounds of AK-47 ammunition, 10 AKS-74 fitted with silencers and grenade launchers and 200 rounds of grenade and ammunition, thirty pieces of 9mm Makarov P64 Russian pistols with two magazines and 500 rounds of ammunition, and two pieces of Dragunov rifle telescopic sight with sound suppressor.

Considering that the weapons were allegedly imported through the SPDF, a search warrant was executed on Monday December 20, and it was found that the weapons held in the armory bear the same serial numbers as those indicated in the seized documents, retrieved from the Valabhji’s home. According to the SPDF, the arms were retrieved from Mr Rene’s private residence following his death.

Despite the suspects’ attorneys strenuously objecting the application, presiding judge Chief Justice Rony Govinden granted the remand applications, stating that the risk of the suspects interfering or tampering with evidence and absconding is now much higher, following their arrests.

It must be noted that attorneys for the first suspect Basil Hoareau and France Bonté maintained that their client was merely a subordinate to Mr Rene, as commander in chief of the armed forces, and thus acted lawfully in abiding by his superior’s instructions. Mr Hoareau further argued that no prima facie case has been established in relation to certain alleged offences, attacking all grounds for further holding of the suspect.

Similarly, attorney for the second suspect Joel Camille adopted similar submissions, urging bail with conditions, on account of the medical condition of his client.

CJ Govinden also said that he is satisfied that a prima facie case has been proven to satisfaction concerning the: quantity of arms and ammunition; the fact that arms were discovered in the homes of two civilians; the fact that the arms were imported more or less in or near election years; and that the SPDF is the only institution in the country capable of acquiring and holding firearms.

He further noted that it is essential that the police be provided adequate time for further investigations, interviews and to hopefully seek out more weapons and ammunition, including 350 highly explosive devices which are presently unaccounted for, with the whereabouts still unknown by the police.

Three others ‒ Mukesh Valabhji, his wife Laura Valabhji and Leslie Benoiton ‒ also facing terrorism and weapons-possession related charges also appeared before court during the afternoon (See separate story ‘First three suspects in arms and terrorism related case to reappear next week’).


Laura Pillay

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