Home Economy In US$100m Drug Trial Gov’t Returns US$113K To Acquitted Defendants

In US$100m Drug Trial Gov’t Returns US$113K To Acquitted Defendants

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By E. Geedahgar Garsuah

MONROVIA: The Liberian government, through the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), has handed over US$113,000 seized from one of the four acquitted defendants in the just-ended US$100 million cocaine case.
The money was confiscated from defendant Malam Conte. The Ministry of Justice presented US$113,000 as the amount seized from Conte after his arrest during the drug bust.

Conte, along with co-defendants, Makki Issam, Adulai Djalo, and Oliver A. Zayzay, left the country immediately after they were declared Not Guilty by jurors of Criminal Court ‘C’ at the Temple of Justice on Capitol Hill in Monrovia.

The four defendants were prosecuted on charges which among others included unlicensed importation of controlled drugs.

They were accused of smuggling 520 kilos of cocaine, worth US$100 million, which was concealed in a container shipped from Brazil.

The MOJ, which termed the no-guilty verdict as shameful, had initially refused to return the US$113,000 confiscated during the investigation, citing Conte’s absence from the country.

But, the Supreme Court of Liberia dismissed the argument of the Government and ordered the return of the money, which had been given to Conte’s lawyers for onward transmission.

The MOJ returned the money to the acquitted defendants via a check instead of cash. “We are presenting a check of US$133,000. 40 in compliance with Your Honor’s order,” said Cllr. Bobby Livingstone, one of the prosecution lawyers.

Judge Dixon was apparently not pleased over the issuance of the money in check rather than cash.

However, after some discussions with the state lawyers, the court accepted the check, which was en-cashed by the court clerk, the sheriff, and the prosecutors.

The money, sources say, was then given to the head of Conte’s legal team, Cllr. James Kumeh.

The US$113,000 came out of the 520-kilogram haul of cocaine seized by the government in 2022 among containers that TRH Trading had imported from Brazil.

The US$100m drug burst was identified as one of the largest in the country’s history as it relates to the fight against illicit importation drugs and trafficking.

According to TRH Trading, which is an affiliate of AJA Group Holdings, the accused offered to pay US$200,000 for a single container of frozen foods, which costs less than US$30,000.

The accused, the consignee said, later doubled their offer to US$400,000 within less than eight hours and finally to US$1 million — a situation they claimed made them to raise a red flag by contacting the United States Ambassador, which then passed the information over to Liberian security officials.

The claims were repeated in court and formed part of its core argument during the case. However, the jurors found that there was a lack of conclusive evidence to link Conte and his co-accused to the crime as alleged by the state and found them not guilty while ordering the return of the seized money.

If the Court had found the accused guilty, they could have faced a prison sentence of several years and up to life imprisonment in accordance to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act of 2014.

In Liberia, drug trafficking is considered a serious offense, and specific penalties and prison terms vary depending on various factors, such as the type and quantity of drugs involved, the defendants’ criminal history, and the circumstances of the case.

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