Two Canadians sentenced to life in prison for drug possession

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James Clayton Riach, right, and Ali Memar Mortazavi Shirazi after their arrest in January 2014. Photo by Bullit Marquez.

Two Canadians have been sentenced to life today (Wednesday, February 28) for possession of illegal drugs worth 100 million pesos.

James Clayton Riach and Ali Memar Mortazavi Shirazi were arrested during simultaneous raids in the cities of Makati and Taguig in 2014.

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In an 11-page ruling, Makati City judge Selma Palacio Alaras said the pair had been found “guilty beyond reasonable doubt” for possession of methamphetamine hydrochloride, or shabu.

Aside from the life imprisonment, Alaras also ordered Riach and Shirazi to each pay a 500,000-peso fine.

“The point of contention in this case is whether the accused are guilty of possession of dangerous drugs found in Unit 3803 of Gramercy Residences,” the decision read.

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“After due assessment of the facts and evidence adduced, the Court is of the considered view that 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.”

The two were arrested in a drug raid conducted by National Bureau of Investigation agents at the Gramercy Residences on Kalayaan Avenue on January 15, 2014.

Simultaneous operations conducted on The Luxe Residences and One Serendra condominiums in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig, led to the seizure of 100 million pesos-worth of shabu, cocaine and ecstasy pills.

Riach had denied the accusation against him, saying the test-buy operation was “all made up and fabricated for reason of physical impossibility”. He claimed he was at a Makati police station at the time of the operation.

Shirazi, meanwhile, claimed he was just a visitor to the condominium unit when the search took place.

The judge rejected both claims.

The Canadians also argued that the case against them should have been dismissed considering that the Court of Appeals had quashed the search warrant and ordered the junking of the case against the occupants of Room 301 of Luxe Residences, who were arrested on the same day they were.

In junking the arguments, the court held that the latter failed to overcome the strict requirement of physical impossibility as a defence considering the short distance from the Makati City Central Police Station to his unit in Gramercy Residences which can be travelled for about five minutes if walking and even less using a private car.

“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 3pm,” the court concluded.

Furthermore, the court said the positive identification by prosecution witnesses should be given more weight than the accused’s alibi.

In the case of Shirazi, the court pointed out that his being a visitor to the unit was immaterial.

It explained that the fact that the drugs were found within his reach made him liable for possession.

With regard to the CA decision quashing the search warrant conducted on the Luxe Residences, the trial court maintained that the same cannot be applied in the case of the two Canadians.

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