Police deny failed undercover operation after suspect flees with HK$22,000 in marked bills

Chief inspector David Neil Bennett defends his case in court and insists the sting was a success after lawyers cast doubt of the identity of the assailants

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 August, 2016, 11:34pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 August, 2016, 11:29am

A chief inspector has defended a sting operation as successful after it was revealed that a key suspect, who sold him cocaine while undercover, fled with HK$22,000 of marked bills in April, a court heard.

“It was a small amount of money,” Chief Inspector David Neil Bennett said.

The exchange emerged during the trial of Sinare Mohammed, 37, and Maiga Soumaila, 30, who both pleaded not guilty at Eastern Court to two counts of trafficking in a dangerous drug.

The case centred on a two-day undercover police operation, which took place in Central on April 15 and 16.

Mohammed was arrested at the scene while Soumaila was caught in Mong Kok less than two weeks later.

Bennett testified that he was first approached by two Africans shortly after 11pm on April 15.

“Do you want some stuff?” he recalled one of them as asking. “Coke for you, HK$2,000.”

Bennett told magistrate David Chum Yau-fong that the person offering the drugs was “a slightly thinner” man compared to his companion. He described both as 1.8 metres tall, aged between 30 and 40 years old, but dressed in different clothes.

What ensued was a transaction outside Gutzlaff Street Public Toilet where Bennett claimed he was offered two packets of suspected dangerous drugs at HK$2,000.

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“Nice, see you tomorrow,” he said after paying for the packets with the police-marked bills. “I have a party tomorrow. How much can I get?”

“You try this first, I offer special price for you tomorrow,” the thinner man replied, according to Bennett.

The next transaction took place outside Lan Kwai Fong Hotel on April 16, where Bennett was allegedly offered 18 packets for HK$20,000 before he signalled other undercover officers to give chase.

Government chemists later determined there to be 3.97 grams of cocaine in the 20 packets.

Bennett identified Soumaila during an identity parade, and Mohammed in court.

“Could you be mistaken?” Mohammed’s lawyer Simon Cleves asked. Bennett, who had testified that he first saw the two men in well-lit conditions, denied that.

Soumaila’s lawyer, Elizabeth Herbert, questioned Bennett’s description of the alleged drug dealers, saying that the inspector had never used terms such as “thinner” to describe her client prior to the court hearing.

“I suggest to you that you are trying to match the description of the assailant to this man in court today,” she said, pointing to her client.

She went on to suggest police were under pressure to catch someone after a botched exchange in which a suspect escaped with HK$22,000 in marked bills.

Bennett rejected the lawyer’s suggestion and insisted that the operation was not a disaster.

“No, far from it, it was a success in many regards,” he testified.

“A lot hinged on you being able to identify the thinner man,” Herbert pressed on. “I put to you that [Soumaila] was not the man you described as the thinner male. Do you agree or disagree?”

Bennett disagreed.

The trial continues.