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Who Smuggling Drugs Here?

by News Manager

News & Analysis By Robert Fisk

UNIFICATION TOWN/MONROVIA: Since the end of Liberia’s 15-year civil war that killed over 250,000 people and displaced over one million others internally and externally, the Country has been faced with another gargantuan (huge) challenge- the smuggling of illicit drugs and other dangerous substances.

The situation is severely impacting the Nation’s predominately youthful population.

Illicit drugs, valued US$800 Million, were first arrested by French troops at the edge of the West African State of Ivory Coast and Liberia’s international waters near Maryland County in 2006.

The arrest of the drugs was carried out during the erstwhile Administration of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia and Africa’s first elected female President.

The drugs were reportedly burnt by state security authorities in collaboration with the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) at the time.

Following that historic illicit drugs burst, the smuggling of other types of illicit drugs and other dangerous substances to Liberia has been on the increase even during the era of the erstwhile United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), up to present.

Liberia is among post-conflict nations which are commonly categorized as “fragile” and “conflict-affected” states. The Country is seen as being particularly vulnerable to organized crimes due to insufficient management of borders, weak regulations, and generally ineffective law enforcement.

But, in recent years, Liberia has emerged from peace-building to state-building with the gradual transformation of its war-affected economy and infrastructure.
Also, there are other illicit economic activities that are currently taking place in rural Liberia, with those involved including but not limited to several West African and other nationals unlawfully competing over control of natural resources such as diamonds, gold, and timbers.

In May 2006, experts from the regional group, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), on Money Laundering and Illicit Drugs activities reported that Liberia was considered a trans-shipment point for Asian heroin and South American Cocaine for the European and US markets.

Unbridled corruption, criminal activities, arms-dealing, overwhelming dominance of the use of the United States Dollar (USDs), as an accepted medium of exchange, and illegal diamond trade and timber logging along the porous borders outside the security cover of the then UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), provided significant potential for money laundering and illicit drugs trade in Liberia, the report added.

The biggest drugs burst in recent times was in September of last year, when the joint security intercepted a whopping US$100 million worth of cocaine concealed in a frozen food container.

The cartel infiltrated the Maersk Shipping Line and had cocaine packaged among frozen goods.

The seizure by Liberia’s Drugs Enforcement Agency (LDEA), the Liberia National Police (LNP) and other State Security agencies, was made possible through a tip-off by the American Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia’s Capital.

Interestingly however, the four illicit drugs suspects, then, were identified as Malam Conte, Adulai Djibril Djalo, Makki Admeh Issam, and Oliver A. Zayzay. They were arrested and subsequently charged by the Liberia National Police. All four suspects were later acquitted by the Court through a jury trial.

The Court acquitted them on grounds of insufficient evidence, a ruling many groups and institutions at home and abroad as well as foreign partners including former U.S. Ambassador to Liberia, Michael McCarthy, expressed apparent disdain and displeasure about.

Few weeks later, several other boxes containing illicit drugs were discovered at the Freeport of Monrovia after the controversial US$100 Million drugs saga.

As if Liberia is the fastest booming drugs market for international cartels, fresh consignment of illicit drugs was arrested recently by the Security detachment of the Roberts International Airport (RIA) in Unification Town, Margibi County. Following the seizure, reports suggested that the consignment was a mere ‘moringa’ intended for herb tea.

But, as the local media intensified their investigative reports, the Liberian Government, via the Ministry of Justice that chairs the Joint Security of Liberia, “confirmed that the consignment of boxes it intercepted, containing herbal plants -packaged and in natural form- at the Roberts International Airport reveals a presence of methamphetamine.”

The Government said, in a release issued on September 12, 2023, that as part of the Liberia Drugs Enforcement Agency’s investigation, which included “scientific examination, samples tested revealed the presence of the illicit drug, which is banned under the rules of United Nations Office of Drugs and Crimes, UNODC.”

Justice Minister, Cllr. Frank Musah Dean Jr., has with immediate effect ordered the Joint Security of Liberia, including LDEA, LNP and the NSA, to expand their investigations on the importation of the illegal drugs with the aim of bringing to justice all those involved. This was after the suspension of the Director of Security of the RIA, Samuel Freeman.

However, reports surrounding the latest drugs importation saga suggest that the Ministry of Justice has declared the prime suspects in the recent Drugs scandal at the Roberts International Airport “wanted.”
The suspended Director of Security at the RIA, Samuel Freeman; and Sam Sayon (not NSA Deputy Director), but the Cargo Officer of Jos Travel, are the two Prime Suspects who are said to be on the run at the moment.
Both men are now wanted by the Liberia National Police and the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA) for their alleged drugs trafficking, as their whereabouts remain unknown.
Jos Travel is the General Sales Agent for Kenya Airways, which has been handling the airline’s tickets and cargo operations in Liberia.
The Ministry of Justice’s statement comes at a time when the Liberia National Police (LNP) and another state security agency have officially identified the two (2) men as prime suspects. The duo is believed to be at the heart of the Methamphetamine drugs bust at the country’s main international airport (RIA).

The two men are accused of also playing key roles in an attempt to smuggle a substantial quantity of the illicit drugs in the country.
Freeman, the suspended Director of Security of the RIA, now declared WANTED by the central government, has earlier denied that the contents of the confiscated boxes which he had attempted to smuggle from the tarmac through an unauthorized gate, were not illicit drugs.

The now wanted RIA security boss allegedly implicated Presidential Protocol at the Ministry of State who categorically refuted claims of her involvement.

On Monday, customs officials from the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), in the presence of joint security, inspection of the boxes claimed that the contents of the boxes were “moringa.”

According to a test conducted by the Liberia Drugs Enforcement Agency (LDEA), which has now joined the police to name Freeman as a prime suspect, revealed that the test results show methamphetamine, highly addictive drugs.
The state security’s declaration of both men as suspects in the airport drug saga comes few hours after the customs office of the Liberia Revenue Authority at the airport was reportedly burglarized.
The burglary happened at the time when the government of Liberia admitted, for the first time, that the purported ten boxes confiscated from Freeman contained methamphetamine drugs, contrary to their initial claims that the boxes contained “moringa” which is used for tea. Later, the confiscated boxes were turned over to LDEA.

However, the Communications Manager at the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), Danicius Kaihenneh Sengbeh, said the burglary may have happened during the early hours of Wednesday, September 13, 2023, as the alleged perpetrators gained unauthorized access to the customs office, and its examination hall.

LRA officials hinted this paper that documents in the burglarized Customs Office at RIA were still intact but this cannot be independently confirmed by our reporter assigned at the airport.

Another confusing saga surrounding the RIA drugs arrest has do with the manifest that had the name: “Finda Bondo” and not “Finda Bondoo” that is reportedly being used by Executive Mansion Chief of Protocol (Presidential Protocol).

Howbeit, some keen observers say critics of the Weah Administration have been spreading their own versions of the RIA drugs saga on the social media, taking advantage of the ongoing presidential and legislative elections campaigns in the country as the 10, October, 2023 polls fast approach.

Opposition Leader, Alexander Benedict Cummings’ Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), National Campaign Committee to Elect Alexander B. Cummings President of Liberia have condemned the continuous smuggling of dangerous drugs into Liberia.

Cummings Campaign Committee said it is now conclusively confirmed that the so-called moringa leaves being smuggled under the facilitation of the head of the now suspended security chief of the Roberts International Airport (RIA), Liberia’s only international airport, was laced with methamphetamine, addictive drugs used to make “kush”, a dangerous drug killing Liberians.

The latest drugs smuggling through the RIA “reminds of the $100M cocaine smuggled into Liberia through the Freeport of Monrovia, for which a lame, conspiratorial and collusive investigation and prosecution saw the perpetrators walk out of jail and away from Liberia with no consequences for the commission of an international crime, on the watch of the Weah-led Government,” the Cummings’ Campaign Committee added in a statement issued recently.

“Kush” and other dangerous drugs are addicting and killing our children. Liberia is being robbed of its future by poisoning the minds of our young people. The drug epidemic has dangerously overtaken every county in the country, leading to a wave of fear and rising crimes across the country,’ the Cummings Campaign Committee added.

Also, the National Civil Society Council of Liberia (NCSCL), has called on the government to leave no stone unturned in conducting an independent and impartial investigation.

On the heel of what seems to be another national embarrassment, the CSO Council, in a statement issued recently under the signature of its Chairperson, Madam Loretta Alethea Pope-Kai, urged the government to conduct an unbiased investigation by ensuring that whosoever is involved in such act irrespective of his/her status in society should be brought to book.

The Council pointed out that this fresh allegation of drugs importation must be taken very seriously, as this is a dangerous news for a country that is preparing for a crucial Presidential and Legislative elections.

In so doing, the Council recommended the hiring of independent investigators concerning the latest arrival of suspicious boxes at the RIA.

“Considering our most recent experience, the National Civil Society Council of Liberia (NCSCL) is calling on the Government of Liberia to hire the services of independent investigators to work along with government’s own intelligence to handle the matter. This is a situation of high magnitude because the frequency of drugs entering our country through our major ports of entries is scaring. This other matter should not be taken lightly because it poses serious threats to our electioneering process, because we cannot discuss elections without talking about peace; hence, the issue of drugs has the propensity to undermine any peaceful process. We are concerned about the electoral process because we are concerned about the peace of this country. Therefore, we are calling for an in-depth investigation into this matter void of partiality and manipulation,” said the statement.

Ironically, after the guns got silenced in August 2003, multiple international reports have indicated that Liberia has been facing illicit drugs smuggling challenge since the end of the war with the international community mainly the United States and United Nations establishing Panels of Experts on what needed to be done to reduce smuggling of illicit drugs in Liberia.

As cartels widen their tentacles in West Africa since 2005, Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that “the crisis of drug trafficking in West Africa is gaining attention, in the media and among governments.
Alarm bells are ringing about the volume of cocaine transiting in the region (roughly 50 tons a year), and its impact on the security of fragile states.
West Africa, which never had a drugs problem in the past, has become a hub for cocaine trafficking. Ships and planes loaded with cocaine are coming from Latin America into poorly guarded ports and airfields in West Africa. The shipments are then broken down into smaller consignments, and sent to Europe by a variety of means, including commercial flights in the luggage, clothing or intestines of couriers. Distribution is mostly in the hands of criminal groups among the West African diaspora, Maria Costa asserted in his report.
Seizures indicate that much of the cocaine is destined for Spain, and the United Kingdom, the two largest cocaine markets in Europe, but may transit France and Portugal, countries with cultural ties and air links to the region. Cocaine imported from West Africa in recent years is worth almost US$2 billion a year at wholesale level in European cities.
But this is more than a drugs problem. It is a serious threat to security. That is why the issue of drugs trafficking in West Africa is on the agenda of the UN Security Council, the Peacebuilding Commission, the Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS), and the European
Latin American drugs cartels are preying on West Africa because countries of the region are vulnerable. Poor countries in ECOWAS region are unable to control their coasts or airspace. Police are almost helpless against well-equipped and well-connected traffickers.

Drug seizures are growing dramatically – at least 46 tons of cocaine have been seized on route to Europe via West Africa since 2005. Prior to that time, the entire continent combined rarely seized a ton. But most of these seizures occurred by chance.
Prosecutors and judges lack the evidence or the will to bring to justice powerful criminals with powerful friends.
Drugs money is perverting the weak economies in the region. In some cases, the value of the drugs being trafficked is greater than the country’s national income. Drugs are also poisoning the region’s youth since the foot soldiers in this growing trade are paid for their services with cocaine.
As a result, the vulnerability of West Africa to drugs and crimes is deepening even further.
These states are not collapsing. They risk becoming shell-states: sovereign in name, but hollowed out from the inside by criminals in collusion with corrupt officials in the government and the security services. This not only jeopardizes their survival; it also poses a serious threat to regional security because of the trans-national nature of the crimes.
The drug trafficking problem in West Africa is still small by the standards of West Asia, the Caribbean or Central America. But it is growing exponentially and threatening to turn the region into an epicenter of lawlessness and instability. This is the last thing West Africa needs. By strengthening the defenses of the states under attack and building a regional response, there is a chance to bolster the rule of law and equitable development of West Africa, enabling vulnerable countries to withstand the onslaught of drugs and crime.

Interestingly, as Liberian youth become the prime targets and victims, the general questions remain as to who are those locals that are conniving with international drugs smugglers to import illicit drugs, and what is the State doing to punish these smugglers.
Reports had it that over US$2bn illicit drugs have been arrested in Liberia and not one single person in jail besides a Mexican nabbed in the US for smuggling illicit drugs to Liberia. Lots of drugs seized are reportedly for top business gurus operating in Liberia, many of whom are powerful and well connected.

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