Jail sentence cut for smuggler caught with heroin worth $10m
A man caught smuggling almost $10 million of heroin into Bermuda has had his prison sentence cut by five years after an appeal.
The Court of Appeal found that Josef Vlcek’s 30-year sentence – the heaviest sentence ever dealt for drug importation in Bermuda – was excessive compared with other cases.
Justice of Appeal Geoffrey Bell, in a written judgment, specifically noted the 25-year sentence dealt to Janis Zegelis, a Latvian man jailed after 164kg of cocaine and a firearm were found in his boat.
Mr Justice Bell said: “It does seem to me that the various factors in this case and the Zegelis case do tend to cancel each other out, particularly given the huge disparity in weight and value, as against the difference between heroin and cocaine.
“I also take into account that the Zegelis importation could be said to have been happenstance, whereas Vlcek fitted into the category of the traditional drug mule.
“I have also read carefully the reasons for sentence given by a very experienced judge, and it is hard to disagree with anything he says about the significant difference between heroin and cocaine in terms of the former’s addictive and destructive nature.
“But it does not seem right to me that the defendant in this case should receive a higher sentence than that given in the case of Zegelis.”
Vlcek, from the Czech Republic, also called on the Court of Appeal to overturn his conviction, but the Appeal Panel rejected all of his arguments.
While Vlcek argued that his limited knowledge of the English language had hindered his ability to mount a defence, Mr Justice Bell said there was no evidence of unfairness.
Mr Justice Bell said: “He had no difficulty giving the original version of events in his police interview and, no doubt, was capable of informing counsel of the different version which he later gave at trial with the assistance of an interpreter.
“And neither can it be said that there was insufficient time to instruct counsel. Indeed, ignoring the changes of counsel, trial counsel Susan Mulligan had more than sufficient time to take instructions on what was a relatively straightforward issue – how Vlcek came to be in possession of the two suitcases.
“In this regard, he chose to tell one version to the police shortly after his arrest and a completely different one at trial, with the inevitable consequence, damaging to his defence, that he was bound to admit that one of those versions, the first, was a fabrication.”
Vlcek arrived in Bermuda on a September 23, 2017 flight from London. However, customs officers discovered bulges in the lining of his suitcases.
After the officers found packages hidden in both of the suitcases, Vlcek said: “If it’s gold it’s mine, and if it’s drugs it’s not mine.”
The packages were found to contain 2,964.8g of heroin, which could fetch up to $9,550,200 in Bermuda.
Vlcek told police that he had bought the suitcases at a market in London and had no idea about the packages hidden within.
However, in court he admitted that was a lie.
He claimed at trial that he had met two men while he was in London who offered to support his art career if he would bring packages of gold and diamonds from Johannesburg, South Africa, to London.
He said that he agreed and, after he returned, he was offered the flight to Bermuda as a “thank you” and was asked to transport the gold and diamonds to the island by someone who claimed to be a member of the Bermuda Government.
Vlcek was found guilty on March 11, 2019 by a unanimous verdict after about three hours of deliberation.
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