Dr. Iftekhar Shams, chief executive officer of the defunct Lambirds Academy, believes the human trafficking case against him and three other foreign nationals were politically-motivated and as a result, evidence was made up against them.
Shams made the allegations shortly after his three co-accused Kumar Batukbhai Chadasama, Ashwin Kanji Patel, and Gurjeet Singh Vilkhu – all from India – were granted bail in the sum of $17,500 each last Friday.
Conditions of the trio’s bail include reporting every day to the Central Police Station and observing a 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. curfew. Their travel documents have also been seized.
Shams, who was released on bail in February this year, told the media that he is happy that his co-accused have been granted bail, but added that they were “framed” due to political motives.
“I told you before and I am telling you now that we are totally innocent,” he told MBC.
“We had been framed and this is totally political,” he added.
The recently-bailed Indian trio, who have been in jail since February 2015, told MBC that had it not been for Shams’ effort they would have not received bail.
Singh Vilkhu said he is confident that they will win the case when the trial is scheduled to resume next month.
“They have nothing on us, they just dragging the case,” he said, adding that the prosecution has no witnesses to cross-examine because they were deliberately sent home.
Patel said it has been a “long journey” and they have been “suffering behind bars”.
“We never expected it could happen to us,” he said, adding that none of the foreign ministers and local ministers have come to their aid as they would have expected.
Patel further told MBC that it is “totally unfair” the treatment they have received as a “tourist/visitor”, who are trying to create a future in a different country.
He said his relatives back in India are alright but they are “crying” as they know he does not indulge in criminal activity.
All charges against the men were dropped in earlier court proceedings, with the exception of the human trafficking charge, which they have pleaded not guilty to.
A number of Nepalese and Filipino nationals were unable to return home after paying huge sums to pursue promises of education and work in Saint Lucia at Lambirds Academy.
The group of foreigners had claimed that they paid at least US$9,000 each to an agent from their region to secure a place at Lambirds Academy, which was based in Gros Islet, Saint Lucia.
At the Academy, the prospective students were to be trained in hospitality management and promised employment in the United States of America after completing the one-year programme. However, when the foreigners arrived in Saint Lucia to register for classes, the Academy was closed.
The visitors claimed to have mortgaged land and borrowed money to get to Saint Lucia and to finance the course. One student had claimed that he spent over US$12,000 for his plane ticket and other expenses to get to Saint Lucia.
Government had sought assistance from the United Nations International Organization of Migration (IOM), to address the suspected human trafficking case, but the IOM has reportedly only helped in the repatriation of some students.