Suspects in arms, ammunition and alleged conspiracy to commit terrorism remanded further |29 January 2022
The five suspects in the case of arms, ammunition and alleged conspiracy to commit terrorism have been remanded for 14 more days pending further investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission of Seychelles (ACCS) in regards to the case.
The suspects are prominent businessman Mukesh Valabhji (suspect number 1), his wife Laura Valabhji (suspect number 2), former high ranking army officer Leslie Benoiton (suspect number 3), 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.
It was Chief justice Rony Govinden who yesterday afternoon ordered for them to remain in jail, following an application made by lawyer Steven Powles from the Attorney General’s Office.
Mr Powles had demanded that they stay in custody on the basis that each of them poses serious risks of committing further offences under real risk to national security, interfere with witnesses, obstructing the course of justice and possible failure to appear in subsequent court sessions, among others.
CJ Govinden remanded all five suspects to a further 14 days in custody at their current stay of detention up to Friday February 11, 2022 when they will re-appear in court.
He said that this was due to the seriousness of the case which is heating up since they were first arrested, as a result of more fire arms and ammunition being discovered and more searches being carried out, including the court having been informed of the possibility of explosive materials at large.
Lawyer Joel Camille, representing Mr Payet and Mr Marie, had applied that they be released on bail as they will pose no threat to any court order that the court can issue against them. But the affidavit had it that they are involved in the arms importation and distribution which ended up at the residence of the Valabhji couple.
CJ Govinden said that through the affidavit, Mr Payet was involved in the importation of fire arms and ammunitions from different countries and he authorised Mr Marie to take responsibility of some of the fire arms and ammunitions which found their way to hidden cellars at Mukesh Valabhji’s residence at Morne Blanc.
He said that the extent of their involvement causes a risk to the ongoing investigation, especially with regard to a financial audit to be conducted soon by the Ministry of Finance as to the purchasing of the fire arms and ammunition.
Earlier, state counsellor Powles had stated that as part of the ongoing searches being undertaken, following the arrest of all suspects in the case in December 2021, an automatic assault rifle, 1000 bullets and 8 empty magazines were seized in a safe belonging to Mr Benoiton in a dormitory at the Seychelles Coast Guard on January 5, 2022.
On January 20, 2022, the Seychelles Anti-Narcotics Bureau (ANB) further searched the house of the Valabhji couple with a CT scanner and found a secret safe in the wall of the wine cellar, holding 11 loaded pistols, 22 empty magazines and 92 bullets, among other fire arms certificates.
He stated that the name ‘Leslie’, written on one of the boxes and the names ‘Lesl’ on 8 other boxes, shows the connection between the Valabhjis and Mr Benoiton. He further stated that in the safe was also 150,000 UAE Dirham, 5510 Australian dollars, among other foreign currencies.
Mr Powles said that all of the suspects have not assisted in the locations of other hidden arms and ammunitions since they were arrested and police suspect that there are more arms stashed away, especially at the Valabhji’s residence, once they clear away the wine cellar, where the last cache was found.
He said they are waiting for the arrival of an explosive expert to help in the clearance of the wine cellar.
He said that there are still weapons out there and the suspects all pose significant risks should they be released on bail as they know the whereabout of these other weapons.
He added that the suspects have links outside Seychelles and the police suspect that they are involved in a national and international network of arms and ammunition importation.
He further added that the release of the suspects might also lead them to tamper with a financial audit to be conducted.
Mr Powles said that since the suspects in the case have been arrested, a total of 122 fire arms, 45,000 bullets and 238 magazines have been seized from the residence of Mukesh and Laura Valabhji and from that and workplace of Leslie Benoiton.