For the second consecutive sitting, the absence of an interpreter Friday stalled the trial of four Mexicans at the Federal High Court, Asaba, Delta State.
Cervantos Madrid Jose Bruno, Rivas Ruiz Pastiano, Castillo Barraza Cristobal, and Partida Gonzalez Pedro are charged alongside five Nigerians for allegedly operating a laboratory for illicit production of methamphetamine.
The Nigerians suspects are Chibi Aruh, William Agusi, Umolu Kosisochukwu, Izuchukwu Anieto, and Anthony Umolu Ckukwemeka.
The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency was to arraign the suspects before Judge A.O Faji on a five-count charge of conspiracy to form and operate a Drug Trafficking Organization to process and export methamphetamine.
They were also accused of illegal extraction of ephedrine, preparation of methamphetamine and unlawful possession of 1.5 kilogramme of methamphetamine, a drug similar to cocaine, heroin, LSD contrary to NDLEA Act, Cap N30 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
At the last court sitting, the defendants could not take their plea after the four Mexicans claimed they could not understand English language.
The judge adjourned after the defendants’ counsel rejected an interpreter provided by the NDLEA on the grounds of bias.
A second interpreter – Miguel Guadalupe Renteria Gutierrez, a Colombian whose mother tongue is Spanish – produced by the NDLEA on Friday was, again, rejected by the defence after it emerged that his residence permit in Nigeria will expire in October.
The prosecuting counsel, Lambert Nor, said the continued rejection of interpreters was a ploy by the defence to delay trial.
“There is no guarantee that any interpreter who begins a trial will end it because only God can determine that,” Mr. Nor said.
“If this interpreter is accepted, the agency will produce another one to continue with the case in October if his residence permit is not renewed.”
Benson Ndakara, the defence counsel, said although he had initially accepted the second interpreter, he would prefer an interpreter that would be around till the end of the trial.
The judge adjourned till June 7 and advised both counsels to clear areas of disagreement to allow for speedy trial of the case.
“The prosecutor shall take steps under the Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) treaty to produce a suitable interpreter that will be available throughout the trial,” the judge said.
Meanwhile, the Chief Executive of the NDLEA, Muhammad Abdallah has reiterated the commitment of the Agency to leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of justice.
“This is a very important case to the country and our international partners because the illegal laboratory in question has the capacity to produce 4,000kgs of methamphetamine per cycle at optimum production level,” said Mr. Abdallah, a retired Colonel.
“The Agency is determined to halt the proliferation of clandestine methamphetamine laboratories in the country by ensuring that justice is seen to be served.”
The NDLEA had discovered, in March, a super laboratory for the illicit production of methamphetamine located at Asaba, Delta State.
This super methamphetamine laboratory, similar to the ones found in Mexico, is the first to be discovered in the country, according to the NDLEA.
The laboratory has a capacity of producing between 3,000kg to 4,000kg of methamphetamine per production cycle.
A significant feature of this laboratory, the NDLEA said, is that the production process is more technical and sophisticated because it uses the synthesis method of methamphetamine production.
All the principal actors linked to the laboratory were apprehended in a simultaneous raid on members of the syndicate in Lagos, Obosi in Anambra State, and at the laboratory in Asaba, Delta State.
The NDLEA said the cartel first brought two Mexican methamphetamine experts, Messrs Cervantos and Pastiano to Nigeria, but because of the size of the laboratory and the volume of work, Messrs Cristobal and Partida joined the team.
“Our investigation revealed that a successful test production was done at the laboratory in February 2016,” the NDLEA had said in a statement at the time of the discovery.
“The laboratory was raided while the second production cycle was ongoing,” the statement said.
“Items recovered at the laboratory include 1.5kg of finished methamphetamine and 750 litres of liquid methamphetamine. Other items found in the laboratory include industrial pressure pots, gas cylinders, gas burners, facial masks and numerous chemicals.
“Also recovered in this operation are Toyota Tundra, Mercedes Benz Jeep ML and a Toyota Corolla car.”
Mr. Abdallah warned that unless drastic measures are taken against this trend; the rise of super laboratories would put Nigeria on the global spotlight in methamphetamine production.
“This is because the laboratory operates at an industrial scale with a high yield of 3,000kg to 4,000kgs of methamphetamine per production cycle,” Mr. Abdallah, a retired Colonel, said.
“Nigeria methamphetamine is now competing with others in Asia and South Africa markets. The super laboratory does not need ephedrine because it uses the synthesis method.
“Drug cartels are now shifting from simple method of methamphetamine production to a more complex process.”