By Aaron Humes
Accused drug trafficker Mark Seawell’s application for a writ of habeas corpus concluded yesterday, Monday, in the Supreme Court.
It began a few hours late on Thursday morning, August 15, after the vehicle going Hattieville to bring Seawell down to the hearing experienced problems.
Seawell has been sitting in prison for more than six years, the last two under threat of facing charges of conspiracy to import cocaine and marijuana and operating a continuing criminal enterprise in the state of Ohio, U.S.A., between 1994 and 1997.
Former Chief Magistrate Margaret McKenzie ruled there was a prima facie case for Seawell to be extradited in September of 2011.
His attorney, Arthur Saldivar, opened arguments by charging, over the objections of Senior Crown Counsel Magali Perdomo for the Solicitor General’s Office, that his client suffered from abuse of process because he was unjustly targeted under improper procedure and that the chief magistrate did not properly look at the contents of the bundle submitted by the U.S. in support of the case, making the hearing and her decision unfair to his client.
The indictment against Seawell charges a long-standing conspiracy and mostly relies on the sworn affidavits of ten alleged “co-conspirators” who cooperated with the U.S. Government in return for their charges being dropped or reduced under a plea bargain. This, according to Saldivar, constitutes an inducement which would not be permissible under the laws of Belize.
Saldivar expressed the view that “there is no chance of my client getting a fair trial in the United States if he is extradited.
“The reason why I have come to that conclusion, and why the presentations and submissions were based on that aspect, is that it’s clear from the record that the United States relies on statements made by persons who were charged with the same offence, and persons who had an interest to serve in incriminating the applicant [Mark Seawell].
“So it cannot be ascertained whether or not what they say was done at the time they said it because it was true, or whether it was stated because they were getting … a lesser sentence and a promise of not being prosecuted for more serious offences.”
Following close of arguments on August 16, the matter was adjourned to August 26, at which time the Government rebutted Saldivar’s submissions.
Senior Crown Counsel Magali Perdomo had already objected during Saldivar’s arguments that he seemed to be trying to get the case re-heard on basis of fact rather than law; but the latter is the only ground on which higher courts can determine the validity of Seawell’s detention.
Perdomo submitted that the only piece of evidence actually before the court with regard to Seawell’s application is his own affidavit, which in turn mostly relies on the advice of his many attorneys in the case.
That affidavit makes some interesting claims, chief among them that there is no evidence of his (Seawell’s) being identified as participating in activities listed in the indictment, which, in any event, he steadfastly denies committing.
Seawell also claims that the 1870 Extradition Act under which the hearing took place does not apply under the Belize-USA extradition treaty of 2000; that at the time she made the order for extradition, Margaret Gabb-McKenzie was not operating as Chief Magistrate, as she had been succeeded by Ann-Marie Smith and that if Mrs. McKenzie was in fact properly operating she did not apply procedure for extradition to the case. Perdomo strongly denied these contentions, stating that Mark Seawell had not met the threshold provided for in the outstanding Privy Council case of Rhett Fuller among others. Arguments continued throughout the course of the day with a rebuttal from Saldivar, following which Chief Justice Benjamin adjourned the case and promised a decision within three weeks.