By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
A NEW US Department of State report said “alleged missteps” by prosecutors and the Royal Bahamas Police Force overshadowed “credible” accusations of corruption in a recent trial.
The Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs’ March 2020 report was also critical of this country’s criminal justice system and its ability to ensure drug trafficking offenders faced appropriate penalties.
But despite this, there are encouraging signs the judiciary is seeking to institute much-needed reforms, the Department of State said.
“The government of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas does not, as a matter of government policy, encourage or facilitate illicit drug production or distribution, nor is it involved in laundering the proceeds of the sale of illicit drugs. The government continues to make fighting corruption a major focus, despite the challenge,” the report noted.
“At the end of 2019, several high-profile corruption cases were preparing to go before the court, and will serve as an important test for prosecutors and police as they demonstrate their ability to build solid cases as well as for the judiciary to ensure fair trials. During (a) 2019 trial. . .alleged missteps by the police and prosecutors overshadowed credible accusations of corruption.
“To date, there have been very few convictions for public corruption in the Bahamas despite 80 percent of Bahamians saying they felt corruption in government was a major problem, according to a 2019 survey by a non-governmental organisation.”
Regarding drug matters in the courts, the report said the dispensation of justice fell short in comparison to international norms.
“In 2019, the Bahamian criminal justice system’s ability to dispense justice for those charged with significant drug trafficking offences continued to fall short of international norms.
“For more serious legal matters, such as those involving trafficking, smuggling, firearms, or gang violence, regular adjournments prolonged matters, in some instances over several years.
“In a high-profile case involving a suspected drug trafficker who is the subject of an extradition request by the United States, the court failed to issue rulings in a reasonable timeframe, delaying his hearings twice for several months because the physical case file was not present at the proceeding.
“Procedural errors resulted in a high number of cases being thrown out for technicalities. Despite these challenges, there are encouraging signs that the country’s judiciary is seeking to institute much-needed reforms.”
The report continued: “The Bahamas signed a comprehensive maritime agreement with the United States in 2004, which continues to enable cooperation in counter narcotics and migrant interdiction operations in and around Bahamian territorial waters.
“The Bahamas has an extradition and mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT) in place with the United States. Responses to MLAT requests from the Ministry of Legal Affairs are generally addressed immediately and thoroughly, but have at times been delayed by slow and inefficient judicial procedures.
“Responses to requests sent to the Financial Intelligence Unit are often delayed. Compliance with the extradition treaty remains a challenge; some cases date back over 15 years due to pending appeals, others have no legal resolution.”
According to the report, US officials still believe illicit drug trafficking in the Bahamas remains high. During the first ten months of 2019, the report said an equivalent of 225.7 metric tonnes of marijuana were seized, up significantly from the 5.66 MT seized in 2018 due in part to the discovery and eradication of 217,031 cannabis plants found on several large grow sites.
“It remains unclear if these sites were one-off operations or part of a wider trend by drug traffickers to move marijuana production closer to the United States. Joint OPBAT operations also helped track approximately 1,000 kilograms of cocaine that transited the Bahamas before being seized in the United States.
“Throughout 2019, traffickers continued to split up larger drug loads into smaller loads before entering the southern Bahamas. Traffickers move cocaine through the Bahamas via ‘go-fast’ boats, small commercial freighters, maritime shipping containers, and small aircraft. Traffickers move cocaine from the Bahamas to Florida by blending in with legitimate traffic that transits these areas. Larger ‘go-fast’ and sport fishing vessels transport marijuana from Jamaica both to the Bahamas and through the Bahamas into Florida.”
Overall, the Department of State said drug trafficking and related smuggling will remain a primary concern for the United States in the Bahamas.
However, the report said the United States will continue to assist Bahamian efforts to counter these networks and increase efficiencies in the administration of justice through a range of assistance.