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$120m worth of cocaine seized in Liberia

  1. buseman
    Drug enforcement officials have seized four tonnes of Colombian cocaine with a street value of $US100 million ($120 million) in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia.

    Seven people caught with the narcotics, which were destined for the United States, were arrested during the drugs bust last week and have been deported to the US to face trial, Liberia's defence minister Brownie Samukai said.

    Brooks Robinson, from the US embassy in Monrovia, said the suspects were trying to establish cocaine smuggling routes from South America through the war-torn west African nation to the US.

    They attempted to exploit connections with supposedly corrupt government officials who were in fact working in an undercover capacity, in close cooperation with the US Drug Enforcement Agency, he said.

    In recent years, international narcotics traffickers have transported huge quantities of cocaine, worth billions of dollars, through several West African countries which have emerged as a key transiting point.

    They have often sought to bribe high-level public officials with large cash payments and narcotics in order to ensure the safe passage and distribution of their cocaine shipments.

    1st June 2010


  1. buseman
    Liberian President's Stepson Aids in DEA Drug Bust

    The children of heads of state typically make boringly safe career choices, becoming sports team bosses, philanthropists or (yawn) politicians.

    But Fombah Teh Sirleaf, the stepson of Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, recently opted for a more dangerous path: undercover crime fighter.

    According to indictments filed against nine alleged narco-traffickers in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Teh Sirleaf played a vital and, until now, secret role in smashing an international drug ring.

    Prosecutors allege that the gang -- whose members came from South America, Africa and Russia -- planned to ship vast quantities of cocaine from Latin America to Liberia and on to Europe and the U.S.

    As AOL News reported earlier this year, impoverished and corrupt West Africa is now a crucial transit point for Colombian cartels looking to move product into Europe.

    According to the United Nations, some 50 tons of cocaine worth over $1 billion is shipped across the Atlantic every year by plane and boat and then unloaded in the region.

    The traffickers had apparently been trying since 2007 to win over Teh Sirleaf, who serves as the director of Liberia's National Security Agency, hoping that -- like so many other West African officials -- he and his deputy would abuse their positions of power in return for cash payments and protect their drug shipments.

    What the defendants didn't know, however, was that the Liberian national security officials they were allegedly trying to bribe were actually working undercover as part of a long-term, coordinated investigation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara told a press conference in New York on Tuesday.

    And as a result, the defendants' brazen attempts to corrupt and exploit Liberia in service of their drug business were caught on tape -- audio and video.

    One of those recordings, made in May 2009, detailed a meeting between Teh Sirleaf, his deputy and two of the men charged in New York: Chigbo Umeh of Nigeria -- thought to be a local fixer connected with various Latin American cartels -- and Colombian Jorge Salazar Castano, who organized the international drug shipments.

    The pair allegedly offered the two government figures $400,000 if they guaranteed safe passage for 1,500 pounds of cocaine being transported from South America to Liberia.

    According to the indictment, the suspects boasted about being old hands at the drug business, claiming they had previously sent 2,000 pounds of coke in a plane to nearby Guinea Bissau and flown cargoes into neighboring Guinea.

    In other taped conversations, Umeh allegedly stated that they dealt in coke supplied by the leftist Colombian militant group FARC, which has been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S.

    Some five months later, according to the indictment, the traffickers offered to hand Teh Sirleaf and his deputy $200,000 as a "security payment" in return for helping out with a 4,400-pound shipment.

    A few weeks later, an associate of Umeh's delivered the first part of that down payment -- $100,000 in cash -- in Lagos, Nigeria.

    Teh Sirleaf's cooperation led to the arrest May 28 and 29 in Liberia of eight suspects, including Umeh.

    The group was then flown to New York to face court proceedings. The U.S. claims jurisdiction, as the suspects allegedly wanted to ship a small potion of the drugs to the U.S.

    All have pleaded not guilty to charges of drug trafficking. Salazar Castano is in custody in Spain on separate charges.

    U.S. officials have praised the involvement of the Liberian government in such a risky and long-running operation.

    President Sirleaf has put her own flesh and blood in the fight and in the line of fire, said Bharara. What greater resolve could a leader demonstrate?

    June 2 2010
    Theunis Bates
  2. Terrapinzflyer
    U.S., Liberia Join Forces In Operation Relentless

    JUN 1 -- (NEW YORK) – DEA Acting Administrator Michele M. Leonhart joined Preet Bharara, The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York to announce that five defendants arrived in the Southern District of New York from Liberia on May 30, 2010, to face charges of conspiring to import cocaine into the United States.

    The defendants, who were arrested in coordination with Liberian authorities on May 28 and 29, 2010, were transferred by the Government of Liberia to the custody of the United States to face narcotics trafficking charges in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. This marks the first defendant transfer by the Government of Liberia to the United States in connection with narcotics related charges in over 30 years.

    "Unprecedented cooperation from the highest levels of government in Liberia helped expose drug smuggling and corruption that led to indictments of African, Colombian, and Russian traffickers. Operation Relentless successfully battered the pipeline of cocaine flowing from South America, through Africa, and into Europe. In this case, ton quantities of FARC cocaine were seized and the operations of several major traffickers were disrupted," said Leonhart.

    The Honorable Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia, stated: "As today's charges show, the Republic of Liberia is officially closed for business to the narcotics trade. We are strongly committed to combating international drug organizations that seek to exploit our country for their own profit. We are proud of our strong partnership with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration and the United States Department of Justice, and we look forward to strengthening and deepening this relationship in the years to come."

    According to the Indictments and Complaint unsealed today: During the last decade, drug trafficking organizations based in South America have increasingly used countries along or near the West African coast as trans-shipment hubs for importing massive quantities of cocaine to be later distributed in Europe or elsewhere within Africa. Through a combination of privately owned aircraft and maritime vessels, these organizations, predominantly based in Colombia and Venezuela, have transported hundreds of tons of cocaine, worth billions of dollars, to places such as Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Sierra Leone, Togo, Mali, Ghana, Nigeria, and Liberia. In so doing, representatives of these drug trafficking organizations have often sought to bribe high-level public officials with large cash payments and narcotics in order to ensure the safe passage, storage, and distribution of their cocaine shipments.

    Since in or about 2007, the defendants have attempted to bribe high-level officials in the Liberian Government in order to protect shipments of vast quantities of cocaine, and to use Liberia as a trans-shipment point for further distribution of the cocaine in Africa and Europe. In particular, certain of the defendants met with two individuals they knew to be Liberian government officials -- the Director and Deputy Director of the Republic of Liberia National Security Agency ("RLNSA"), both of whom (unbeknownst to the defendants) in fact were working jointly with the DEA in an undercover capacity ("UC-1" and "UC-2", respectively).

    The Director of the RLNSA is also the son of the current President of Liberia. In a number of the meetings involving these Liberian officials, the defendants also met with a confidential source working with DEA (the "CS"), who purported to be a business partner and confidante of the Director of the RLNSA. In seeking to ensure the safe passage of their cocaine shipments, the defendants agreed to make payments to the Director and the Deputy Director of the RLNSA in cash and also in the form of cocaine. The CS advised the defendants that a portion of the cocaine paid to the CS would be transported from Liberia to Ghana, from where it would be imported into New York.

    All of the defendants are charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine, knowing or intending that the cocaine would be imported into the United States. This offense carries a minimum sentence of ten years in prison and a maximum term of life imprisonment.

    The arrests and transfers of the defendants were the result of the close cooperative efforts of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, the Special Operations Division of the DEA, the DEA Lagos Country Office, the DEA Warsaw Country Office, the DEA Bogota Country Office, the DEA Rome Country Office, the U.S. Department of Justice Office of International Affairs, the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Liberia, the Republic of Liberia and its National Security Agency, and the Security Services of Ukraine.

    June 01, 2010
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