Zegelis: Russian contact told me ‘I will find you and kill you’

  • Latvian sailor Janis Zegelis was arrested after $48 million of cocaine was found on his yacht which stopped in Bermuda for repairs. He is now on trial at Supreme Court. A gun and 192 rounds of ammunition were also found.
(Photo by Akil Simmons)

    Latvian sailor Janis Zegelis was arrested after $48 million of cocaine was found on his yacht which stopped in Bermuda for repairs. He is now on trial at Supreme Court. A gun and 192 rounds of ammunition were also found. (Photo by Akil Simmons)

A sailor at the centre of a $48 million cocaine importation trial spoke of the “shocking” moment he discovered the drugs on board partway through a voyage across the Atlantic.

Janis Zegelis said he was hired by a Russian man to sail the yacht Arturs from Trinidad, where he was working on charter boats, to Latvia, where he is from.

He said the Russian, who he declined to name, threatened to kill him and his family if he didn’t complete the delivery.

The accused man told Supreme Court he stumbled across the drugs together with a gun in a storage compartment below deck when he was looking for repair materials for a broken bilge pump.

“I was like, shocking, because there’s supposed to be my stuff, my emergency stuff, all this rigging things,” he told the jury in broken English. “Then I realised there’s some box, some pouch. I opened the pouch and found the gun inside.”

Mr Zegelis, a 29-year-old father-of-three, said he then saw the drugs buried further down in the compartment.

“The reaction, I don’t even know how to explain this feeling because I didn’t really understand what happened.”

He said he believed the Russian man put the contraband on board after sending him to relax at a hotel with his girlfriend ahead of the voyage.

He explained that he made the discovery three days into the voyage when he was located around 80 to 100 miles from the Mona Passage between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

He said he telephoned the Russian to find out what happened and the man confirmed there were 166 packages of cocaine on the ship.

According to the sailor, the Russian offered him the boat and money in return for delivering the drugs to the Denmark Channel near Latvia.

Mr Zegelis said he refused, prompting the man to threaten the lives of his family, including his children.

“He was disappointed that he cannot come to any agreement with me and he start to tell me, ‘I know where live your family, I know which school go your kids’ and that was the truth,” he told the jury.

Mr Zegelis said he believed the man’s threat because he helped him to relocate his family from Latvia to the Dominican Republic, and knew where to find them.

He also had connections across the Caribbean through running a number of charter boat operations.

“He said, ‘If these packages don’t go to the place where I tell you I will kill your family and when you reach wherever I will find you and kill you’,” he alleged. “I knew he had connections and I was more than sure it was not a joke.”

Mr Zegelis said he called his mother, Daina Zegele, who worked in the Dominican Republic as a bartender, to explain the situation.

He said he made plans to dump the drugs and meet his mother somewhere to escape together.

However, then his boat developed a serious problem with the mast and encountered a tropical storm, forcing him to divert to Bermuda.

Mr Zegelis said he felt “deeply stressed” about doing so because he knew Customs could discover the contraband, but believed he would die if he stayed at sea.

His boat was searched on August 1, 2011, 11 days after he arrived on the Island, and he was arrested.

Asked by Mr Pettingill why he did not tell the authorities about the alleged threats against him, he replied: “We are talking about the lives of my kids, my family members. I just did what they told me to do and answered the questions and that’s it.”

Cross-examining Mr Zegelis, prosecutor Rory Field asked him to reveal the name of the Russian man.

Mr Zegelis refused, saying he would provide the name to the police but did not want to say it in court because it would be reported to the media and could put his family at risk.

He answered Mr Field’s questions about his family by saying he has sons aged ten and seven and a two-year-old daughter.

He admitted lying to the police that he had bought the gun three years earlier to protect himself from pirates.

He said he did so because his original lawyer, Peter Farge, suggested police would not believe the true story.

Mr Field suggested: “You didn’t come here to assist the jury at all when you were being asked questions by Mr Pettingill. You were coming here to mislead the jury.”

The accused man replied: “No, I came here to explain the real story of the situation.”

Mr Zegelis denies importing and possessing the gun, drugs and 192 bullets and the case continues.

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