The five-day trial for 15 Chinese nationals accused of online gambling is set to begin this week, after the Palau Supreme Court issued an order stating that a further hearing must decide if the evidence against them was obtained lawfully.
The motion hearing for the 15 Chinese nationals, who are all criminally cited for possession of gambling devices and six additionally cited with labor violations, was scheduled for last Friday, and the defendants are awaiting the Court’s decision.
The evidence consists of electronic devices and large amounts of Chinese and US currency, which was seized in September by the Ministry of Justice’s Special Task Force for cyber-based crime in a “spot-check” raid on Palau Vacation Hotel in Malakal.
The defendants had previously filed a motion to suppress and return the evidence seized during the raid, on the basis that the seizure was performed “unconstitutionally”, and without probable cause. However, the Court, under Justice Honora Remengesau Rudimch, dismissed this motion, after none of the defendants or their legal counsel Mr. Johnson Toribiong appeared in Court for the scheduled hearing on February 19 at 9:00am. The Court additionally warned Mr. Toribiong that any future non-appearance in Court would result in sanctions against him.
However, Mr. Toribiong filed a motion for the Court to reconsider this warning of sanctions later that day, on the grounds that he had taken his COVID vaccination several days before and was feeling physically and mentally unwell. Mr. Toribiong claimed that he had woken up that morning confused and told his clients to meet him at the Court at 10:00am rather than 9am, leading all 15 defendants to appear an hour late, after the Court had already recessed.
The defendants also filed a motion for the Court to reconsider dismissal of evidence suppression on March 5, which the Court granted, saying that it was Mr. Toribiong’s error which led the defendants to miss their Court date. Mr. Toribiong was sanctioned $100.
A Court order issued on March 17 stated that a further hearing is required to determine if the entry of Detective Lieutenant Lebuu Gibbons and IMS Specialist Blekuu Sbal of the Special Task Force into the Hotel Room where the alleged gambling was taking place was done with probable cause. According to the order, reports from the two officers contain an “inconsistency about whether the door was open or nudged open”, and “the court at this time is unable to make any findings as to whether probable cause existed”.
As to the Task Force’s decision to investigate Palau Vacation Hotel, the Court ruled that there was enough probable cause to justify the investigation. The order cites visual observations of the Bureau of Public Safety, tax forms from the hotel, reports from the community about unusual traffic at the hotel, and experience from previous drug busts to justify the Task Force’s decision to perform a spot-check at Palau Vacation.

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