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One Pinay acquitted, 3 others convicted of acting as 'drug mules’

15 November 2017

By Vir B. Lumicao

A Filipina walked free from the High Court yesterday, Nov. 14, after being acquitted of drug trafficking, and of conspiring with three others to commit the crime.

Maricel Thomas was the only one of four Filipinas who was cleared of all charges of bringing cocaine into Hong Kong in September last year.

The cocaine was found inside the hidden
compartment of a hand-carried bag
Her lawyer managed to convince the jury that Thomas did not know the person who gave her the bag with cocaine, and was only enticed to go to Hong Kong at the last minute.

Thomas also had no reason to act as a drug mule as she was getting adequate financial support from her estranged husband.

Shirley Chua, 46, who was arrested with Thomas at the Hong Kong International Airport on the evening Sept 25, 2015, was found guilty of trafficking in a dangerous drug. She was, however, cleared of the conspiracy charge.

Thomas and Chua were among four Filipinas who were tried by a seven-man jury on charges of conspiring to traffic around 4 kilograms of cocaine into Hong Kong.  

All four arrived on the same day aboard Cebu Pacific's last flight from Manila.

The two other Filipinas who were on the same flight with them, Remelyn Roque and Ana Louella Creus, were found guilty of the conspiracy to traffic drugs.

Thomas and Chua were arrested at the airport after Customs officers found four slabs weighing 2.45 kg of a solid substance containing cocaine from their hand-carried luggage.

Government tests later showed Chua’s luggage had 944 grams of pure cocaine while Thomas’ had 923 grams.

However, Roque and Creus, a 30-year-old dentist, managed to pass unchallenged through the green, or “nothing to declare,” lane at the Customs area of the HKIA arrival hall. 

But they were arrested as they were about to board a flight back to Manila two days later. By then, they had already delivered a bag each to two "black men" at Chung King Mansions in Tsimshatsui..

Justice Audrey Campbell-Moffat, who presided over the 16-day jury trial, scheduled the sentencing of the three for Jan 18.  

The four defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges at the opening of the trial on Nov 6. 

But government prosecutor John Wright said they knew they were carrying something illicit in their luggage.

The four lawyers appointed by Legal Aid to represent the four defendants, disputed the conspiracy charge.

But the prosecution said the accused conspired with a woman named Nora Noora, who met with all four in Roque’s house in Cavite on Sept 23, 2015 and briefed them on their mission in Hong Kong. 

It was also Noora who booked their air tickets and provided them the four traveling bags with the concealed cocaine slabs, he said. She also gave them specific instructions to take the bags to Chung King Mansions.

But Kevin Egan, for defendant Chua, disputed this story.

"If there was conspiracy, my client would have known all her companions in the trip to Hong Kong from the beginning,” Egan argued. 

He said Chua did not get to know all the other defendants until the day of their departure.

Egan said his client had no plan to visit Hong Kong until the last minute, when she met Noora and Roque in the beauty parlor where she went for grooming.

Chua, in fact, did not know that she was already being booked on Sept 22, 2015, by Noora for the flight to Hong Kong, Egan said. 

He said the woman is a single mother with a young daughter and son who she could not leave alone at home.

As for agreeing to take the traveling bag to Chung King Mansions, Egan said it was a Filipino custom to oblige a request for help by other people.

Diane Cribbens, for Thomas, said there were two important issues: 1) the prosecution had to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt; and 2) the jury must consider the cases against each defendant individually.

“Even if you find evidence strong enough to convict one defendant, it may not be sufficient to convict another,” Cribbens told the jury.

Cribbens said Thomas, a mother of four who was separated from her husband, was receiving money every two weeks from the commander of her soldier-husband’s unit. She had no financial need that would have pushed her to drug trafficking, the lawyer said.

She said Thomas was asked by her acquaintance Roque if she wanted to travel to Hong Kong for free, so, she agreed as she had never been here. “She was just a last-minute tug-along,” Cribbens said.

Phil Chau, for Creus, said his client was a single, young professional, a dentist who was earning more than P30,000 a month from her practice.

Chau noted it was only Creus whose phone did not have messages showing she had knowledge of the Hong Kong operation. She was excluded from the loop and got a massage from Noora only once.  

Wright said Noora, who he referred to as “the boss”, and the Filipino van driver who brought the four bags to replace the four defendants’ luggage,  were part of the conspiracy.
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