International — 23 August 2013 — by Kareem Clarke
Mark Seawell finally granted extradition hearing

Mark Seawell, who is currently wanted for a slew of drug-related offenses in the United States, has been fighting extradition to that country for over 7 years. In October 2006, the US government requested his extradition for his alleged involvement in the operation of a marijuana and cocaine smuggling business.

The US Justice Department claims that Seawell and his brothers, Duane and Gary, were responsible for the transportation of cocaine to the US through Mexico as well as for the sale of marijuana between December1994 and August 1997. The three also allegedly engaged in the transfer of drug proceeds to Houston, Texas; Lakeland, Florida, and Belize.

According to a release that was issued in February of 2010 by the US Justice Dept., a federal grand jury in Columbus, Ohio, had indicted Seawell, his brothers — Duane (currently serving a 17-year sentence in a US prison) and Gary (who was arrested 12 years after the indictment) — and 69 other individuals in 1997 for running an operation which used young people, often college students, as couriers to carry drugs hidden in the soles of tennis shoes into the Columbus area. Approximately 1 kilogram of cocaine would typically be hidden in the soles of the shoes.

Seawell has been on remand at the Belize Central Prison since 2007 pending a decision by the courts. Of note is that his extradition has been approved at both the Magistrate’s Court and Supreme Court levels. In July of 2010 in the Supreme Court, Justice John Muria handed down a decision that Mark Seawell could be extradited to face drug charges in the United States. His team of attorneys at the time, including the late Dr. Elson Kaseke, Dickie Bradley and Arthur Saldivar, however, had been successful in delaying the extradition.

A second case for his extradition was heard in the Magistrate’s Court by former Chief Magistrate Margaret McKenzie on September 30, 2011. McKenzie handed down a 13-page judgment stating that a prima facie case had been established against Seawell, demanding that he be handed over to US authorities.

However, Seawell’s former lead attorney, Dr. Elson Kaseke, filed an application for habeas corpus in the Supreme Court, which was the proper means to appeal the Chief Magistrate’s extradition order. After Kaseke’s death, his cases were left unattended, one of them being Mark Seawell’s application to the Supreme Court, which had been made in October 2011.

Two years later, the matter was called up for a final adjournment by the present Chief Justice, Kenneth Benjamin, because none of Seawell’s present attorneys were able to move forward with the 2-year-old application.

Attorney Arthur Saldivar has since filed a writ of habeas corpus on Seawell’s behalf, on the basis that his detention is unlawful. The case was then set for August 9, but on the day of the hearing, the court could not find the original extradition documents which were tendered before the Chief Magistrate. The matter was therefore adjourned yet again, with intent to have the case heard on August 15.

Despite numerous adjournments, as well as a caution previously given by the Chief Justice, a hearing was conducted by the CJ, the Honorable Justice Kenneth Benjamin, on Thursday, August 15, in his chambers. Seawell’s attorney, Arthur Saldivar, was finally able to present the case to CJ Kenneth Benjamin and spoke for a little over 3 hours before the case was adjourned once more.

The Chief Justice will make a final decision on Seawell’s fate at the conclusion of the hearings, which have now been adjourned to Monday August 26.

After the adjournment, Arthur Saldivar told reporters that the hearing has again started on the habeas corpus application, and due to the nature of this type of application, they are restricted in terms of what types of arguments they can present.

Saldivar explained, “Certainly what we have put forward thus far relates to what we consider to be important in terms of the likelihood of a fair trial or the fact that one may be impossible should Mr. Seawell be extradited. We raise the issue again of the lapse of time, but certainly that is a ground that the Privy Council had dealt with extensively and one that has to be within very narrow criteria to avail itself to the applicant. But at the end of the day I believe that, for the most part, the submission has carried through what we would want to be presented, and we look forward to tomorrow to continue and concluding.”

Seawell’s defense team has put forward a submission that they consider to be important in terms of the likelihood of a fair trial in the event that Sewell is extradited to the US. Saldivar’s submissions will be rebutted by the attorney for the Government, Magali Perdomo, after which a final decision will be made by the Honorable Justice Benjamin.

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