Four Canadians arrested in Philippines for drug trafficking

Four Canadians are facing life imprisonment in the Philippines for alleged involvement in illegal drug trafficking in connection with a Mexican cartel.

They are identified as James Riach, Ali Shirazi, Barry Espadilla and Tristan Olazo. Espadilla’s wife is also in custody.

Riach and Shirazi were presented to a state prosecutor for an inquest Jan. 16. They and their lawyers refused to make a statement to journalists.

The four suspects were arrested during raids on three up-scale condominiums in areas surrounding Manilla on Jan. 15.

During the raid, agents seized $2.3 million worth of cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA — which is similar to ecstasy —  enough to fill three suitcases.

If convicted, the accused face life-imprisonment, and under Philippine law, bail cannot be posted.

The Associated Press reports that Riach was arrested in a penthouse rented by the group in the city of Makati, and Shirazi was arrested in another unit in the same building. Espadilla and Olazo, both originally from the Philippines, were arrested in a condominium in Taguig city.

Police in the Philippines say that Riach and Espadilla were members of the Independent Soldiers gang in Vancouver and had criminal records prior to the current arrest. Riach was convicted of weapons possession charges and Espadilla of heroin and cocaine possession after their arrest in 2008, police said.

Riach survived the high-profile August 2011 hit in Kelowna that killed Janathan Bacon, a red Scorpions leader, and several others.

The Mexican-based group is believed to be undercutting Chinese and African traffickers in the region. While the Chinese currently dominate the local market, the suspects were selling crystal meth at half the price offered by the Chinese traffickers.

Rommell Vallejo, chief of the Anti-Organized and Transnational Crime Division of the National Bureau of Investigation, believes that such clashes could lead to violent drug war in the Philippines.


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