Plymouth club boss must stay in jail pending his appeal
A CITY club boss jailed for nine years for allowing Ecstasy to be sold in his venue must remain in prison while he awaits an appeal hearing.
Manoucehr Bahmanzadeh, who ran Union Street's Dance Academy, was jailed in 2008 at Plymouth Crown Court, along with general manager and DJ Tom Costelloe, who received a five-year sentence, after they were convicted of allowing the supply of class A drugs at the club.
In January The Herald reported how Bahmanzadeh had won his right to appeal against his conviction and sentence following a review of his case by the Criminal Case Review Commission.
The Dance Academy owner protested his innocence throughout, yet was ordered to pay £1m following a Proceeds of Crime Act order. The Herald later discovered that £950,730 of the money he paid was kept by the Jersey authorities, with only £12,984 being handed back to the Crown Prosecution Service.
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At a preliminary hearing in London yesterday, his counsel James Wood QC told Mr Justice Nicol how "fresh evidence" uncovered since the trial had "fundamentally undermined" the Crown's case that Bahmanzadeh had "deliberately permitted" drug dealing at the club. The judge also heard that if Bahmanzadeh was successful in overturning the guilty verdict, every penny of the £1m would be returned to him, with interest.
At the hearing, Mr Justice Nicol refused to release Bahmanzadeh on bail immediately, but directed lawyers on all sides to "get their skates on" so his appeal could be heard at the Royal Courts of Justice before the end of the summer. Mr Wood said Bahmanzadeh had been "bombarded" in prison with letters from Plymouth City Council regarding the dilapidated condition of the historic Palace Theatre and wanted his freedom so he could start to implement a restoration plan.
The barrister said Bahmanzadeh had "aged absolutely remarkably during his sentence; his teeth are in danger of falling out". The court heard Costelloe had also lodged his case with the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) and if it was referred to the Appeal Court, Mr Wood said his appeal would probably have to be heard alongside his former boss's challenge. Mr Wood earlier told the judge that Bahmanzadeh's lawyers are currently tackling vast amounts of evidence and an application may have to be made for further disclosure from the Crown.
The court heard Bahmanzadeh's earliest release date is December 31 this year.
Mr Wood said with major question marks over the "safety" of his conviction, it would be fair to release him. However, Mr Justice Nicol refused bail, adding: "His appeal may, of course, succeed but that is not sufficient for me to grant bail at this stage". Recognising the need to hear Bahmanzadeh's appeal before his sentence expires, the judge said lawyers must "strive" to have the case ready for hearing by three Appeal Court judges before the end of the summer. He said: "People have just got to get their skates on." The appeal hearing is expected to last three days.