Whereabouts of American on trial for growing hemp unknown as he misses court hearings

An American man arrested in Myanmar for growing industrial hemp has missed several court hearings and gone missing after being released on bail, his lawyer has said.

Thein Than Oo said he has lost touch with his client John Fredric Todoroki since he was granted bail in July last year and did not know his whereabouts.

The 63-year-old was arrested in April 2019 even though he had permission from the regional government to run the 20-acre hemp plantation at the Mandalay Myotha Industrial Park.

Two fellow employees from the III M Global Nutraceutical company, Shane Latt and Shunlae Myat Noe, were also arrested last year and have not been granted bail.

The three were charged under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Law. Todoroki was also charged with immigration offenses.

Defence lawyers have argued that the arrests are unjust because the company had permission to grow hemp and police mistakenly assumed they were producing recreational drugs.

Todoroki missed five scheduled court appearances between early November and January 13. The Myingyan district court says it will keep his bail money if he fails to attend a January 27 hearing.

Todoroki’s friend Khin Maung Win paid 315 million kyat as bail for three separate charges.

Thein Than Oo, the lawyer, has also applied for bail for Shunlae Myat Noe because of her ill health.

The defendants have requested laboratory tests abroad in the hope of showing that the hemp they were growing is not a psychoactive substance, court information officer Tin Than said.

Five other Americans involved in the project avoided arrest because they were out of the country when Todoroki was detained.

Police said they seized 349,300 marijuana plants, 5,200 seedlings, 380kg of seeds, as well as chemicals and laboratory equipment for processing the plants into CBD, a non-psychoactive substance that is legal in many countries that criminalise marijuana.

Officials from the Myotha Industrial Park submitted documents to the court including records of legal seed imports and approval letters from government offices, the defence lawyers said.

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