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Latvian drug runner caught in Bermuda would have died if he had stayed at sea

Alla Petrova, BC, Riga, 04.06.2012.Print version
Latvian drug smuggler Janis Zegelis, accused of importing USD 48 million of cocaine and a gun, told police he had to come to Bermuda or face death at sea, according to the newspaper "The Royal Gazette".

In a video-recorded interview after his arrest, Janis Zegelis, 29, said: “I was supposed to go straight from Trinidad and Tobago to Latvia. That’s it.”, informs LETA.


However, he said his 38ft yacht "Arturs", got damaged in bad weather and he was forced to stop for repairs in Bermuda.


“I would have died if I did not come in,” he explained.


Zegelis is on trial at Supreme Court charged with importing and possessing 166 kilograms of cocaine found on "Arturs" during a customs raid together with a 9mm Beretta semi-automatic pistol and 192 bullets.


The jury has heard evidence that his yacht arrived in Bermuda last July 21 and was raided on August 1. According to customs officers, Zegelis told them the packages they found contained cocaine.


In his police interview, the accused man said: “They asked me if this is cocaine and I said ‘probably’. I did not make these packages. I cannot tell the thing that is inside.”


He went on to state: “The only thing I want to comment is these things not supposed to come into Bermuda.”


He explained his trip from Trinidad to Latvia, in Northern Europe, was meant to be a “straight, non stop” journey.


However, he said the chain plates in the starboard side of the yacht broke and he had to make temporary repairs to get to Bermuda.


“That is why I am here. These items what you found, I do not know how many or what it is. It is not supposed to be here. I just came here to fix my boat and continue on my way to Latvia,” he said.


The officers asked Zegelis about a distress call his vessel made to a larger boat, "Brianna", at 11.45pm on July 19 when he was approximately 55 nautical miles east of Bermuda. He said he made the distress call, reporting his vessel was disabled, because the conditions were “very bad outside” with 40 knot winds and he only had a 50 horsepower engine, reports "The Royal Gazette".

Zegelis said he was advised during the distress call to abandon ship because there was a tropical storm coming. However, he said he did not want to do that and believed the wind would drop. He eventually sailed into Bermuda by himself.


Zegelis explained that he only planned to stay for four days but the Cup Match holiday meant shops were closed and he was unable to get the steel plates he needed for his repairs.


Asked about the gun and ammunition found with the drugs on the boat, Zegelis said: “Honestly, in my experience a lot of sail boat captains have that, illegally unfortunately, because when you have it legally it is a lot of problems when you travel. I had it to protect myself.”


He explained that he had owned the gun for three years and purchased it in Margarita Island, Venezuela. He described sailing in the Caribbean as dangerous, due to pirates.


According to the newspaper, the jury has already seen his passport, which indicates he spent the two years prior to his arrest sailing around South America and the Caribbean. Asked about himself, Zegelis confirmed that he is divorced and has a sister in Latvia. However, he answered other questions with “no comments.”


That included questions about whether he was in a criminal gang in Latvia, where he got the drugs from, who he was delivering them for and how much he was to be paid.

Zegelis denies the charges and the case continues.

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