Palau President Tommy Remengesau, Jr. and Vice President and Justice Minister Raynold Oilouch both expressed their disappointment on the recent outcome of DHL Heir Larry Imeong Hillbroom’s drug trafficking case.
Remengesau, during a press conference on Wednesday, July 4, said that the plea agreement between the court and defendant Hillbroom on the Conspiracy to Traffic drugs charge was “totally unacceptable.”
A plea agreement, also known as plea bargain, is any agreement in a criminal case where the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a particular charge in return for some concession.
Hillbroom was supposed to be tried on June 25 for the Conspiracy to Traffic Controlled Substance case, instead he pleaded “NO CONTEST” to the charge in a plea agreement and in exchange, three separate criminal charges of Trafficking and Possession of Controlled Substance against him were dropped. He was sentenced to 10 years supervised probation.
President Remengesau expressed his upset over what he considered to be very lenient sentencing.
“We have zero tolerance drug policy. We have declared war on drugs,” Remengesau said, adding that even though the Judiciary is a separate house, there should be discussion about the issue.
“I agree with Vice President Oilouch in his letter to Judiciary regarding use of strong penalties in drug convictions. I totally support him on this,” added Remengesau.
Oilouch had previously sent a letter to Chief Justice Arthur Ngiraklsong, urging the judiciary to support the government’s war against illegal drugs by ensuring that convicted criminals received the punishments they deserved and cited that sentences against convicted drug traffickers “appear to be too lenient.
Remengesau also expressed his disappointment with the Court’s handling of the case.
“We will talk with AG’s office and if they need to hire more attorneys, we will do so. And if they have people in there that do not have the same belief as we do about drugs, then they need to go.”
Meanwhile, Vice President and Justice Minister Oilouch, who had just recently arrived from his Geneva trip for Palau’s membership to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), had told the media in an interview yesterday that he was disappointed on the outcome of Hillbroom’s case.
“I’m disappointed because you know the administration’s policy, we have a zero tolerance against drugs and those who are dealing with drugs,” Oilouch said.
Oilouch said that he had immediately called and met with the Attorney General and Prosecutor upon his return to Palau.
“They explained to me the reason behind the Hillbroom plea agreement and as a lawyer, I understand what they did but as Vice President and Minister of Justice that is still not satisfactory,” Oilouch explained.
Oilouch shared that he told the Attorney General that he would rather that they proceeded with the trial and get a “not guilty” verdict from the Jury as through that at least they could have done the best they could.
“I would like a guilty verdict all the time but I don’t like to see plea agreements because this is not good,” Oilouch clarified.
Oilouch reiterated that as Minister of Justice, his priority is to eradicate drug problems in Palau.
“This is a known drug user in Palau, we would have termed him as one of the big fish,” Oilouch said, adding that going down with case without jail terms is “disappointing.”
Hillbroom was charged in 2016 on Conspiracy to Traffic Controlled Substance when two women were caught entering the country with 160 grams of “ice” or methamphetamine in their body cavities purportedly paid for by Hillbroom. Hillbroom was arrested and charged a week later when he arrived into the country.
The two females, who were charged for Possession of Controlled Substance were sentenced to 7 years of probation with conditions. One of the conditions was to testify in court in the trial of Larry Hillbroom. Two never got to testify due to Hillbroom pleading No Contest at the June trial. (L.N. Reklai and Rhealyn C. Pojas)