Daijiworld Media Network - Mangaluru
Mangaluru, Feb 24: Melwin Fernandes of Karkala, who was jailed in Kuwait for eight months for taking a parcel of medicines meant for his friend and neighbour Richard Castelino, was finally released from jail last month and reached his hometown a few days ago. Richard's wife had given Melwin a parcel of medicines to pass on to her husband in Kuwait. Unknown to Melwin, the medicines were painkillers banned in Kuwait, but he had been told that they were for blood pressure and diabetes, and he trusted his friend.
In a live television show on Daijiworld 24x7 TV channel, Melwin narrated his trauma during those eight months in jail, as well as the mental torture even after being released on bail.
Here are excerpts from his interview to Daijiworld editor-in-chief Walter Nandalike on 'Kaal Aaz ani Falyam' live Konkani programme.
When Melwin landed in Kuwait on February 9, 2014.
After I landed in Kuwait, the customs officials asked if I had any tablets in my bag. I said yes and handed over the bag after opening it. They asked me whom I had brought them for. I said it was for a friend of mine called Richard. Then I was made to sit there for about three to four hours. Richard is my neighbor in Karkala. He works in Kuwait and his wife had given me these tablets saying they were for blood pressure and diabetes. Since I had faith in him I did not check the tablets. I was busy those days with house warming ceremony, and as soon as I recieved the parcel I put it inside the bag. So when the customs officials asked for the tablets I handed them immediately. Then I was told to sign on two blank sheets, to which I refused. Then they made me sit inside a room and repeated the same question as to whom I had brought these tablets for. My answer was the same. They later filed a report and handed me over to the CID officer. He then handed me over to another officer who handcuffed me. I felt as if they (Richard and his wife) had stabbed my chest after I helped them. For the first time in my life I felt immense pain and I never imagined such a situation even in my wildest dream.
Contacted Richard after arrest, but...
During the trial the officials gave me some time to contact him and Richard said he was in the premises and told me not be afraid. I told the same to the officials and but they did not care. Ever after I was handcuffed I called up Richard. And then I was taken to a higher officer. I had a fear that I had unwittingly taken pork meat with me and I would get caught for the same and not for the tablets. They had confiscated all my belongings. Then they asked me the same question and I gave the same answer. Later the higher officer told me to call up my friends in Kuwait and tell them to call him. It is tough to argue with the Kuwait police as they are short-tempered. Later I was told to sit for ten minutes and was put behind the bars. I felt I was jailed for no mistake of mine.
The next day I was taken to the public prosecutor and the same question and answer session was repeated.
They later on said that if that person (Richard) surrenders they will free me, but till then I have to be behind the bars. I was confident that he would come as he was my neighbour. In the evening I was taken for medical examination and one of the officers told me that the tablets I brought were not for blood pressure and diabetes but were painkillers. He also said I need not be afraid and that if Richard came forward with the prescription note and accepted the tablets as his, I would be set free.
Time in jail - Expecting release each and every moment ...
After the medical examination I was brought back to the jail. In the evening I happened go through a list which later I came to know were of people who would be getting bail on the day. That day was a Monday and I waited for my name to appear in the list but it was not to be found. Same thing repeated on Tuesday and Wednesday too. If I had to get the bail then it should be on Thursday, as Friday and Saturday are holidays in Kuwait. To my delight my name was there in the list on Thursday. A sum of 200 Kuwaiti dinar had to be deposited for the bail.
Twelve of us were waiting for the bail. We were taken to another room where there were telephones and we were told to call our relatives or friends who could deposit the sum. Due to the anxiety from four days of imprisonment I forgot the local numbers. I could not make an international call to my wife as the facility was unavailable in the phone. To my misfortune, I did not know anyone from Kuwait except Richard. And in those days I was not sure where the church in Kuwait was located. I came out from the room with a blank mind. Then I saw a CID officer and asked for his cellphone so that I could call up my wife. He initially saw me with suspicion but later gave me his phone.
I told my wife to call all the people she knew in Kuwait, even Richard, and tell them to deposit the amount. I was sure that people would help me, as other people in the list were slowly getting bail and being freed. At that moment, I had my ATM card in hand and I could pay the fine. But the officer said that someone else had to give the surety and not me. We (in the bail list) were reduced to three after sometime. And I had only two hours before the day ended. But we did not get the bail and were taken back to jail. Friday and Saturday also passed by. On Sunday, as per procedures I was produced in court and later shifted to the central jail. After that I lost contact with the outside world.
Every week there is court hearing and I was given a lawyer. He came but spoke very little as per their rule. During the court trial the judge asked me why I had brought the tablets and I repeated the same answer. Since I had forgotten the local numbers I could not contact any local person there. I was tensed and was thinking how I could contact a local. There we are allowed to make local calls every day after nine except on holidays. We used to have male nurses visiting us for routine checkup and I narrated my condition with my nurse and requested him to get any local number by contacting my wife. He said he had read news of my arrest in Daijiworld and promised to help me. After two days he brought me two local numbers. One of the numbers was of my close friend Niranjan through whom I came to know about a person named Pascal Pinto. I called up Pascal and narrated my situation to him.
I then spoke to Niranjan again, and he said they had contacted a lawyer who would fight for me in the court and also told me to be strong as it might take some time. The lawyer we got initially was not so good. The next lawyer we got told me that my wife Carol and my sister had come on phone and asked what message I had to give them. I asked him to tell them that I was fine and not to worry much.
Later I discovered that there were a few people who do business of providing mobile phones. But for this I had to pay them, which was not possible as I did not have a penny. I then contacted Pascal Pinto and requested him to remit the money in my favour and explained the procedure to him. He used to deposit the money himself twice a month.
I had a few expenses there like clothing and food. We could purchase the food from outside if we did not like the regular jail food. As I could make only local calls, I was unable to contact Carol for two months. And in these two months my friend Niranjan and Pascal Pinto supported me. I would ask Niranjan to contact my wife to get any information from her. Even till the last day when I was released, he supported and helped me.
Richard's fake identity cost him much
I was thought to be a liar as Richard Castelino was assumed to be not in Kuwait. When my wife visited Kuwait he had gone to India by changing his name and his identity was a mystery. Then my friend Pascal hired the criminal lawyer Mohammed Qurebith. Here I want to give a clarification regarding my friend Pascal Pinto. A few people in Kuwait and India are spreading message that Pascal Pinto has borrowed a large sum of money from me, which is false. On the contrary, he was the one who helped me, deposited money whenever I needed, even invited me to his house and took me to various places in his car.
I had to bring papers from India to prove Richard's existence. At this time, a person advised me to contact Elias Sanctis for any need in my native place and in Mangaluru. I had a small barrier in the jail and I was using mobile phone escaping the eyes of the police, because if I was caught I had to pay a heavy fine. So whenever I used to find a little time I used to narrate my situation to Elias.
When I was inside the jail, officials of Indian embassy had come to visit me along with Pascal Pinto. There were people languishing in the jail for a year and they had not seen the embassy officials come inside. The officials promised me that they would do their best to help me.
Finally, relief through bail on October 16, 2014
After contacting Elias many a time and convincing him, he told me that my wife had to come there and he also promised to make arrangements for my wife's and children's arrival. This was in May. And since my hearing was scheduled for October 16, he made arrangements for my wife's arrival in September, and October 16 was my hearing and I got the bail the same day. After that I had to spare 15 months in Kuwait and without mentioning anyone's name I want to thank everyone who have helped me in many ways.
Because my visa had expired in April 2015, I was unable to work. Many have prayed for me as well. My sincere thanks to all.
After I came out I did not have any job and my visa could not be transferred as it was a project visa. At that moment Elias introduced me to a person named Joy Pereira who later promised to transfer my visa. But unfortunately nothing could be done. I spoke to my company officials about the solution but they had no clue what to do. I even went to the ministry level and nothing worked out. I was in a fix as, if I did not return to India within the expiry date I had to pay fine.
I could leave Kuwait only after I was acquitted. And fortunately I was acquitted by the first court on May 14 and I was proved innocent. I thought now I could return to India. When I spoke to my lawyer, he said there's an appeal period as the allegation on me was that I was the dealer of those tablets and I had about 15 sections against me. And if I could not prove myself innocent, I was to be imprisoned for at least ten years. Later I discovered that the prosecution had appealed in the higher court and I had to produce an update regarding the case filed by my wife against Richard in the Indian court an year ago. So I requested Elias to intensify the efforts. Later we were able to prove that Richard had two passports and I was able to prove myself innocent.
It has been just about ten days since I landed here (as on the day of Daijiworld TV interview). After I left my two-year-old daughter I was imprisoned for two years. She is now four and doesn't recognize me now. I have to spend time with my family first. Later I am planning to go back to Kuwait and earn my bread.
Message to viewers / readers
I wish good health for all the people including Elias Sanctis and Pascal Pinto for helping me and praying for me. I pray that God motivates them to help more people in need even in their next life. It was not so easy to help me. Often, we lose hope. All I want to say is, if someone gives you any parcel to hand it over to someone, request them to provide the items in unpacked condition so that you can check the contents. Do not accept a parcel if it is sealed.
Role of ACP Venkatesh Prasanna :
Venkatesh Prasanna who has served several places in the coastal region, incuding as CCB inspector in Mangaluru, played a vital role in briging Melwin Fernandes back home. Kuwait court was not ready to declare Melwin as innocent without the identity proof of Richard Castelino. It was Prasanna who went deep into the bank account details of Richard Castelino's wife in Karkala. While investigating the amount received in the account from Kuwait, it was confirmed that though her husband was sending money from Kuwait, he was living in Kuwait on a different passport. With the help of a money exchange in Kuwait, Prasanna was able to unearth the identity of Richard Castelino. By gathering all documentary proof, Prassanna sumbitted the report to Kuwait authority, which helped Melwin Fernandes get a clean chit from both courts in Kuwait.
While speaking to Daijiworld TV on the same live show, Prasanna said that he just did his duty as he found an innocent Mangalurean suffering in jail for no fault of his.
Elias Sanctis who helped Melwin on different occasions in India and Kuwait was also present during the live TV show.
Watch full video (In Konkani - tv show Kaal aaz ani Falyam)