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‘Nino Maravilla’ man appears in court

Friday March 09, 2018 Written by Published in Crime

A Colombian national appeared before Justice of the Peace John Whitta in the High Court of the Cook Islands yesterday, charged with failing to declare a previous conviction.

Luis Felipe Garcia Atehortua is believed to have entered the country from Fiji, in order to assist the crew of the Nino Maravilla, the Ecuadorian fishing boat that is under investigation at Aitutaki.

It is alleged that Atehortua was the captain of the boat. The Nino Maravilla is rumoured to have been transporting illegal drugs, however CINews understands that no drugs or any other contraband has yet been discovered by authorities.

Atehortua was arrested at the Rarotonga International Airport on Sunday, trying to leave the country.

Through his defence counsel, Wilkie Rasmussen, he entered a plea of guilty to the charge of failing to declare a previous conviction.

Rasmussen requested that his client be sentenced yesterday, but prosecution opposed this. Alison Mills, from Crown Law, argued that failing to declare a previous conviction was a serious offence, and that the security of the Cook Island’s border depended on declarations being made.

She said the Crown would seek more than the minimum fine of $500 and proposed that Atehortua be sentenced before Justice Dame Judith Potter, who is arriving on the island within the next week.

Rasmussen responded by saying that it was unreasonable to expect every foreign national who is convicted of failing to declare something be made to wait for a hearing before a visiting judge.

He added that although there was speculation about further charges possibly being laid against his client, it was not the role of the courts to give police more time to find evidence for fresh charges.

His client had pleaded guilty and the matter should be dealt with immediately, as Atehortua was wishing to leave the country next week, Rasmussen said.

Mills said there were no guidelines in the Cook Islands for sentencing people who had been convicted of such a crime. She said a precedent should therefore be set within the jurisdiction of a High Court judge, not a single JP.

JP Whitta agreed sentencing should take place before a High Court judge, not wishing to set the precedent himself.

Some of Atehortua’s possessions had been confiscated from him after a search warrant had been executed in relation to another matter, said Mills. His passport had also been confiscated from him and he was not to leave the country without approval from the High Court.

Atehortua’s bail conditions state that he must reside at a hotel in Matavera until his sentencing takes place before Justice Potter.

It is unknown who is paying for the accommodation, but it was alleged in court yesterday that the man had $3000 in his possession when entering Rarotonga.

Meanwhile, the police investigation into the Nino Maravilla continues.