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DPP: If there is no evidence, you just can’t proceed

DPP: If there is no evidence, you just can’t proceed

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Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Colin Williams has defended his decision to end the cases against five Venezuelans, in connection with the shooting incident in Union Island on June 3, that left a local customs guard, Othneil Whyte, and three Venezuelans dead.{{more}}

He also responded to reports that it was an agreement between the Dr Ralph Gonsalves government in Kingstown and the Hugo Chavez administration in Caracas which led to the men being set free last Wednesday.

“There is nobody on the face of the earth that I have met, that I am afraid of, who going tell me what to do in terms of performing my duties as the DPP …” Williams said yesterday on Hot 97 FM’s “A.M. Mayhem” show, hosted by Chris “Too Kool” Jones.

Williams telephoned the show after Abdon Whyte, son of the deceased customs guard, in an earlier call, spoke of the alleged agreement, citing Venezuelan newspaper reports.

However, the Venezuelan Embassy, in a statement issued yesterday, denied the allegations, saying the release of the five men was “a sovereign act” by the Office of the DPP and the Serious Offences Court, “based on the facts investigated and the content of the Constitution and criminal laws of the State of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines”.

The customs guard drowned during the alleged shootout aboard the Venezuelan vessel, “El Amigo Fay” and a package reportedly thrown overboard during the incident was later found to contain soap powder.

“Anybody could always have an agreement, but they can’t tell me what to do,” Williams said.

The men —, Junior Jose Astodelle Conteura (age unknown), Deybi Jose Mata Vicent, 22, Heuwerto Rafael Mata Mata, 55, Darwind Mata Salazar, 27, and Degry Mata Vicent, 28, captain of the vessel, returned to Venezuela on Wednesday, hours after the cases against them were dropped.

They were charged with the attempted murder and attempted kidnapping of Corporal Rohan DeShong in Union Island on June 3.

The captain was also charged with failing to notify the Comptroller of Customs of the expected time of arrival of his vessel in St Vincent and the Grenadines on June 3, and failure to transmit the date to the Comptroller of Customs, in accordance with Section 18-C of the Customs Act.

There was a reported shoot-out between the Venezuelans and Deshong, which left three other Venezuelans dead and another hospitalised with gunshot injuries.

At the time of the alleged shootout, the customs guard was also on board El Amigo Fay with Deshong — of the tactical Rapid Response Unit (“Black Squad”).

Deshong told national security officials that the foreign men had opened fire on him.

The customs guard’s body was fished out of the sea hours after the alleged shoot-out.

He died as a result of drowning, an autopsy found.

The DPP said yesterday that the Venezuelans were never charged in relation to the death of the customs guard.

“That was never on the table,” he said.

The DPP further said he discontinued the cases after studying the file.

“Our guidelines indicate that when someone is in custody, you are to have that person ready for trial within three months…” he said, noting that the men had been charged since June.

He further said the investigating officers “did as much as they could have done.

“There are certain deficiencies and you can’t cure certain deficiencies in the file.”

He said that while Whyte is concerned about his father’s death, “that is for a coroner’s inquest as we indicated.

“How did Mr Whyte get off the boat? Nobody can say. Was he pushed off? Did he jump off voluntarily? Whatever happened, we don’t know.

“There’s nobody who could speak to that particular event… What was Mr Whyte doing on the vessel? Why did he go out there?” the DPP further said.

Williams said the Customs Department never made a statement saying on what authority Whyte was on board the Venezuelan vessel.

“Clearly, one would have expected the Customs Department would have provided a statement in relation to that. What kind of charges are you going to proceed with?”

He further said that law is based on evidence.

“If there is no evidence, you just can’t proceed. Not because the people are Venezuelans and because it is a tragic incident. I regret the death of Mr Whyte; I regret the death of the Venezuelans. It is sad … But because it is sad, means you are going to act in malice or in spite…?” the DPP said.

“I could invite any prosecutor from any part of the world to review that particular decision and to tell me where I have gone wrong.

“There could not have been any such agreement and there was none that could have pinched my decision,” he further stated.

He explained that the evidence from the police officer was that there was a “black” Venezuelan who was armed with a shotgun and fired upon him.

The DPP said another person on the vessel corroborated this.

“The issue was this: was this particular person a part of the crew?”

He said that apart from the crew, the customs officer and the police officer, two other persons — the man who allegedly had the shotgun and another —— were also onboard the vessel.

The DPP said he doesn’t think that Deshong disputes that the person who was shot is the person who had the shotgun, who fired at him.

However, the DPP said the captain and crew of “El Amigo Fay” said the man who allegedly had the shotgun was not part of their crew.

Further, the other person who could identify the alleged attacker was also not part of their crew, the DPP said.

“There was nobody else who has given a version other than the fact that the person who was shot and killed was the person with the shotgun … He was not part, per se, of the crew.

“We cannot then say there was any real joint enterprise. There wasn’t any basis under which a joint enterprise could be grounded. We can’t say all these people intended to do something…”

Asked about the soap powder packages thrown overboard, the DPP responded, “Who threw it overboard?”

Police had initially suspected that the packages thrown overboard contained cocaine.

The DPP said that according to the evidence, the parcel was “in the open, tied to an anchor, resting on a drum, … up until the shooting.

“Who threw it overboard? I don’t know,” the DPP said.