The Palau Supreme Court has dismissed a motion filed by the fifteen Chinese nationals cited for online gambling to suppress the evidence against them, and has set their five-day trial to begin on March 19, 2021.
The fifteen Chinese nationals were temporarily detained on September 18, 2020, following a raid conducted by the Ministry of Justice’s Special Task Force for cyber-based crime at Palau Vacation Hotel in Malakal.
In November, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss or suppress and return the evidence seized during the raid on the basis that it was obtained during an “unlawful search and seizure”. The motion, submitted by now-Vice President J. Uduch Sengebau Senior who was serving as Attorney for the defendants at the time, argued that the evidence was seized during a raid without a search warrant, without probable cause, and without justification by any exception to the warrant requirement.
The motion to dismiss the evidence was dismissed by the Court last Friday, February 19, after the defendants and their current Defense Attorney, Mr. Johnson Toribiong, failed to appear in Court for the motion hearing on Friday morning. The Court Order dismissing the motion said that Prosecuting Attorney Laisani Tabuakuro appeared along with her witnesses and presented her case, and that no plea agreement was filed by the February 12th deadline.
All 15 defendants have been criminally cited for possession of gambling devices and records, while six have additional labor citations for working in Palau without a permit. While eight of the defendants were registered with work permits under Computer Programming and Design Co., the other six were allegedly in Palau with tourist visas.
The search and seizure was the result of a spot-check conducted by the Task Force for cyber-security crimes at Vacation Hotel on September 18. According to reports compiled by Detective Lieutenant Lebuu Gibbons and IMS Specialist Blekuu Sbal, who participated in the search, the fifteen Chinese nationals were caught in the hotel operating on laptops and desktops in “the exact setup and configuration for online gambling”. The evidence which the Task Force confiscated and brought to the Police Station included electronic devices and a large amount of US and Chinese currency.
Computer Programming and Design Co., for which eight of the defendants were working, is registered under former Senator Camsek Chin. However, Mr. Chin has denied any connection to the online gambling, stating that the eight Chinese nationals were being hired in order to design a digital system for the company which would “make it easier for the people of Palau to interact with the government”.