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Canadians caught with P100-M shabu sentenced to life imprisonment

MANILA, Philippines – The Regional Trial Court of Makati City sentenced two Canadian nationals to life inprisonment on Wednesday, February 28, after they were found guiltyof illegally possessing shabu and other drugs with an estimated value of around P100 million.

Makati RTC Branch 63 Judge Selma Palacio Alaras also ordered the Canadian nationals, James Clayton Riach and Ali Memar Mortazavi Shirazi, to pay a P500,000 fine. 

The two were arrested in a drug raid at unit 3803 of the Gramercy Residences on Kalayaan Avenue on January 15, 2014.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), which conducted the raid at Gramercy Residences as well as conducting raids at The Luxe Residences and One Serendra condominiums in Bonifacio Global City on that day, found P100 million in shabu – methamphetamine hydrochloride – as well as cocaine and ecstasy pills.

The court found the accused Canadians guilty of possessing dangerous drugs, saying, "there is basis to support a finding of guilt against both accused for illegal possession of methamphetamine hydrochloride, also known as shabu, found in Unit 3803."

Riach and Shirazi's claims

The judge did not give credit to Riach's claim the test-buy operation was made up.

Riach presented lawyer Thomas de Castro as a witness to contend with the findings. De Castro testified he received a call from Riach on January 8, 2014, at around 9 am. In the call, Riach said he was seeking assistance with regard to a theft incident.

De Castro also said the two met at about 12:30 pm at the Makati City Central Police Stattion and parted ways at 5:30 pm.

De Castro thus holds there could not have been a test-buy operation as he was with Riach during the time of the test-buy operation.

Shirazi meanwhile claimed he was a visitor in Unit 3803. The seized illegal drugs, he said, were not recovered from his possession – it was instead found in the master’s bedroom of the unit while he was seated at the sofa during the search.

The Canadians also argued the case should have been dismissed as the Court of Appeals (CA) earlier quashed a search warrant and ordered a case against the occupants of Room 301 of Luxe Residences junked.

Court response 

In junking the Riach's arguments, the trial court held Riach failed to overcome the strict requirement of physical impossibility as a defense.

It takes about 5 minutes to get from the Makati City Central Police Stattion to his unit in Gramercy Residences, and travel time could have been lessened on a vehicle.

Held the court, “The short distance and the facility of access available to Riach do not render it physically impossible for him to have been in Gramercy Residences at about 3 pm."

The trial court also said the "positive identification that he sold the poseur-buyer dangerous drugs in Unit 3803 cannot overcome his alibi of physical impossibility."

In Shirazi's case, the trial court pointed out his being a visitor to the unit was immaterial to the case as the fact the illegal drugs were found within his reach made him liable for possession of the drugs..

The Court of Appeals decision quashing the search warrant conducted on the Luxe Residences, meanwhile, could not be applied to the Canadians' case, the trial court added.

It explained, “While the courts may take judicial notice of its own acts and records in the same case, as a rule, courts are not authorized to take judicial notice of the contents of the records of other cases, even when such cases have been tried or are pending in the same court, and notwithstanding the fact that both cases may have been heard or are actually pending before the same judge." –