0M cocaine bust– sawmill owner charged in absentiaBY KIZZY COLEMANFive men including a race car driver and an ace rider were on Wednesday arraigned for the $550 million cocaine bust at Zeelugt, East Bank Essequibo (EBE). The illegal substance was intercepted on May 12.Twenty-year-old Nazim Gafoor along with his father, Tazim Gafoor, 45, both of Menzees Street, Windor Forest, West Coast Demerara; biker, Stephen Vieira, 33, of Lot 37 Middle and Cummings Street, Georgetown; and GRA’s Drug Enforcement Agent, Sherwayne De Abreu of Lot 262 Street 8 Section “A” Liliendaal, Greater Georgetown, appeared at the Leonora Magistrate’s Court.In addition, sawmill owner, Naraine Lall who is still out of the jurisdiction was charged in absentia. The Gafoors, DeAbreu and Vieira pleaded not guilty to the charge when it was read to them by Magistarte Roshelle Liverpool before a packed court room. The Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) said that between March 1 and May 12, 2017 at Naraine Lall’s sawmill located at Zeelugt, EBE, the men collaborated with Hakeem Mohammed to traffic 84.9kg of cocaine.The four men who appeared in court were represented by several attorneys.Tazim Gafoor was represented by Attorneys Glenn Hanoman and Stanley Moore while Moore also represented the younger Gafoor; his son Nazim.Attorneys Latchmie Rahamat and Mark Conway represented Stephen Vieira and Sherwyne DeAbreu respectively. The attorneys all made unsuccessful petitions for bail to be granted to their clients.Moore made an application for Nazim Gafoor to be granted bail disclosing that his client suffers from epilepsy. Two weeks after the investigation into the drug bust, Nazim had to be rushed to the St Joseph Mercy Hospital where he was hospitalised. During the court proceedings, it was revealed that Tazim Gafoor has a pending court matter after he was charged for causing death by dangerous driving.On the other hand, in applying for bail for her client, Rahamat told the Court that Vieira, upon receipt that an arrest warrant was issued for him, contacted CANU and informed them of his arrival into Guyana from Jamaica. He was preparing for the Caribbean Motor Racing Championship and due to the on-going investigations, the Guyana Motor Racing and Sports Club suspended his licence thus he could not participate. He was arrested moments after disembarking a Fly Jamaica Flight at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri, East Bank Demerara.Upon his arrest, he made an appearance before Chief Magistrate, Ann McLennan who recalled the arrest warrant. DeAbreu’s lawyer told the court that he has been working with the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) for the past six years while noting that he was nowhere around the cocaine when it was unearthed.He further added that after his client was implicated in the operation, he presented himself to CANU’s headquarters and has been cooperating with its agents.However, CANU Prosecutor Konyo Sandiford told that court that its submission is based on three long months of investigation against Stephen Vieira. More importantly, she added that the State’s case is based on evidence taken from Mohamed which proved that there was collaboration among the men to export the cocaine. Sandiford told the court that CANU is in possession of the analysis report and the statements of 15 witnesses. She however, requested an additional week to obtain statements from the investigating officers.However, following the hearing, the tearful mother of Nazim and wife of Tazim Gafoor, questioned the reason for CANU instituting charges against her son since there is no evidence.“They came to New Road, Vreed-en-Hoop when my son and me was there. What is it that they hold my child for? A sickly child, a Caribbean motor racer? What did he do? They never found him with any drugs or anything like that. The man that they found the drugs with, where is he?”, she lamented.On May 12, $550 million worth of cocaine was unearthed in a shipment of dressed lumber destined for the United States.The 84.9kg of cocaine were concealed in dugout cavities with vacuum sealed plastic packets in a contingent of wood on the premises of Hakeem Mohammed who remains in custody of CANU. While the shipping documents had Vieira’s name, the Gafoors were arrested following information received due to intelligence gathering. During the investigation, video footage was obtained from a digital device belonging to Nazim Gafoor which reportedly implicated the accused. That recording was retrieved and sent overseas to be analysed. Meanwhile, after weeks of gathering evidence, the charges were instituted.The men are expected to return to court of June 12, for disclosure and fixture.