Philippine authorities are on the lookout for two assassins they say have been sent to kill a pair of Vancouver gangsters arrested in the Southeast Asian nation earlier this month.
Media in Manila quoted Philippines Department of Justice (DOJ) secretary Leila de Lima confirming that two assassins have been deployed to kill the pair, who were part of a Mexican drug cartel.
James Clayton Riach and Barry Espadilla were part of the Independent Soldiers gang in B.C., which has been linked to a wave of killings in the province.
They were arrested on Jan. 15 in a condominium-based illegal-drug laboratory in Taguig City, Philippines. Large quantities of cocaine, shabu (methamphetamine hydrochloride) and ecstasy pills were seized from them.
The DOJ and the Bureau of Immigration have in their possession the photos and names of two assassins allegedly sent from Canada to silence the two arrested drug suspects, according to de Lima.
She said concerned government agencies have been alerted after they were told by the International Criminal Police Organization about plans to assassinate the arrested members of the cartel, according to media reports in the Philippines.
De Lima admitted authorities might have difficulty tracing the assassins’ whereabouts, as they don’t know which “back door” the hitmen might pass through to get into the country.
The arrested Canadian suspects are being closely guarded at the headquarters of the National Bureau of Investigation in Manila.
Initial investigation revealed that the laboratory in Taguig, which has been operating for the past seven months, is the biggest of four drug units being operated by one group in the Philippine capital.
Espadilla and his Independent Soldiers gang-mate Riach, both 31, are facing possible life sentences after a major drug bust in Manila. Both men left B.C. for the Philippines last year in part because they were targeted in a gang war that has been raging for years.
Riach and Espadilla are part of the Wolf Pack, a coalition made up of some Independent Soldiers, some Red Scorpions and some Hells Angels.
Riach was in a vehicle with Scorpion leader Jonathan Bacon and HA member Larry Amero when it was targeted in a Kelowna shooting in 2011. Bacon was killed, Amero wounded and Riach escaped unharmed.
Also in the vehicle was Leah Hadden-Watts, who was paralyzed. She is the niece of the president of the Hells Angels’ Haney chapter.
Her sister, Tara Hadden-Watts, is in the Philippines with Espadilla and their young son. News reports indicate she was also picked up by police Wednesday, though she does not appear to have been charged.
Another Metro Vancouver gangster with a string of convictions here, Ali Shirazi, was arrested in one of the apartments where Riach was found.
De Lima was quoted in news reports as saying the drugs had been smuggled from Mexico and were being processed by Riach and Espadilla to be distributed in Filipino nightclubs and bars.
Const. Doug Spencer, a B.C. Transit cop and gang expert, said Wednesday that he’s known both Riach and Espadilla for years.
“They are very active gang members involved in the drug trade in Vancouver,” said Spencer, who does anti-gang presentations for the Odd Squad society.
“Because of the contracts on their lives over the last couple of years, the kind of bloodshed that has gone on, they thought they couldn’t continue activities here where they are known, so they’ve gone abroad where they think they’re not known.”
Spencer said the pair will likely get sentences in the Philippines that are much longer than what they would have faced in B.C.
“It is another bad decision in their lives and now it’s going to have 10 times the ramifications that it would here,” he said.
Foreign Affairs spokesman Mathieu Roy said in an emailed statement: “We are aware of reports that two Canadians have been arrested in the Philippines. Consular officials are liaising with local authorities to gather additional information. Consular services will be provided as required.”
Both Riach and Espadilla have long criminal records in B.C.
Riach was convicted in 2010 of possession and careless storage of a loaded .45-calibre semi-automatic Glock pistol found under his mattress. Espadilla was convicted of heroin and cocaine possession.
Both were acquitted of more serious gun charges after an arsenal of weapons was found in their luxury Yaletown condo.
Espadilla has a manslaughter conviction as well.
The Wolf Pack has faced a series of blows recently. Red Scorpion leader Matt Campbell was murdered in Abbotsford earlier this month. Another associate, Nick Kljajic, was shot and wounded inside a Burnaby restaurant last week.
And Amero, the high-profile Hells Angel, has been sitting in a Montreal jail cell awaiting trial on cocaine smuggling charges.