LAST OCTOBER, authorities in Liberia, working in collaboration with US international narcotics agency, seized some $US100 million worth of cocaine, the largest in the country’s history and one-fifth of its national budget.
LIKE MANY OF YOU AROUND THE WORLD, shock and disdain greeted the reports which once more put a stain on Liberia’s reputation and is already threatening to turn the struggling post-war nation into a haven for international drug trafficking.
MONTHS AFTER THE DRUG BUST, the jurors at Criminal Court ‘C’ reached a unanimous not-guilty verdict exonerating all four defendants – Makki Ahmed Issam, Adulai Djalo, Oliver Zayzay, and Malam Conte — accused of involvement in the scheme to import a staggering 520kg of cocaine into Liberia.
TO PUT THE CASE INTO PERSPECTIVE, one of the accused had allegedly offered to pay the owners of the container, TRH Group, the sum of US$200,000 for the entire container which, at the time, cost less than US$30,000. The company, realizing the red flag, immediately contacted authorities leading to the arrest of the four suspects in the days following the bust.
IN ITS RULING, the court ruled that the US$200,000 that was seized from the men by the Liberian government be returned to them.
HOURS AFTER THE VERDICT, the suspects fled the country and have not been seen or heard of since.
IRONICALLY, THE BUST WAS MADE in the presence of both US and Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency authorities and recorded on video with photographic evidence published in FrontPageAfrica and other international news outlets as well as many social media platforms.
SIMPLY PUT, this was a slam dunk case.
AN ATTEMPT by Justice Minister Frank Musah Dean to rearrest the suspect and launch an appeal fell short as the Supreme Court, the highest judicial body in the country rejected the appeal.
TO OUR DISMAY, the Government of Liberia by and through the Ministry of Justice, and the Criminal Court C on Wednesday, summoned the management of FrontPageAfrica to appear before the court on June 13 at 11am to explain why we should not be held in criminal contempt of court and to establish and prove where, when and how and who received and splashed the “US$500,000 around judicial circles to influence the jury in the US$100 million cocaine case that was heard and determined and disposed by the First Judicial Circuit, Criminal Court “C” for Montserrado County, Republic of Liberia, as reported in Volume 17, Number 093 of the May 19, 2023 edition of the FrontPageAfrica newspaper.
SUCH SCHEMES ARE NOT UNUSUAL. In April, South African police seized millions of dollars’ worth of cocaine discovered in a container with 16 boxes containing 140 sealed bricks of cocaine.
IN THE GAMBIA, AUTHORITIES in 2021, seized nearly three tonnes of cocaine from a shipment of industrial salt originating in Ecuador. The 118 bags of cocaine were discovered during a search of a container shipped from the port of Guayaquil in Ecuador and through Algeciras in Spain.
THAT SAME YEAR, authorities in Niger seized 17 tonnes of cannabis resin, worth around 31 million euros ($37 million). The drugs were destined for Libya and was at the time, the largest drug bust in the history of West Africa.
JUST LAST YEAR, Nigerian authorities seized a record 1.8 tons of cocaine with an estimated street value of $278 million (€277 million). The drugs were recovered from a residential estate’s warehouse in the city of Lagos.
IN NEXT DOOR GUINEA, authorities last year seized more than 1.5 tonnes of cocaine from a Sierra Leone-flagged ship. The cocaine was found in the hold of a vessel boarded by the navy during a routine patrol.
LIBERIA IS NO STRANGER to international drug trafficking. In November 2010, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) credited Liberia, under the administration of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, for cooperating with the Agency in the fight against drug trafficking.
IN JUNE THAT YEAR, Liberian security guards collaborated with the US in the arrests of seven foreign nationals from Russia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Ghana at the Roberts International Airport in Margibi County.
THE MEN WERE ALLEGEDLY in possession of about 4,000 kilograms of cocaine valued at US$100 million. The suspects were identified as Chigbo Peter Umeh, alias Emeka Okonkwo; Chigbogu Umehwenne, alias Mike; and Konstantin Yaroshenko. Also arrested were: Gilbrill Kama, alias Gibril Kamara, Anthony Smith, Ali Sesay and Gennor Jalloh.
YAROSHENKO, IT CAN BE RECALLED was sentenced by a Manhattan federal court in the US to 20 years in prison for conspiring to import cocaine into the United. States. Earlier this year, the Russian was involved in a controversial prisoner swap for Trevor Reed, an American who was released in April after spending nearly three years in a Russian jail. Reed was released in a prisoner exchange that saw US President Joe Biden commute the sentence of Yaroshenko.
LIBERIA HAS GONE through a lot over the past few years, civil wars, greed, a crippling economy, and massive corruption have dealt a major blow to the country’s survival. Sadly, the most damning indictment has come from the judicial branch of government which has been criticized by the US State Department annual report for being a having from bribery, corruption, and jury tampering for year.
IT DOESN’T TAKE a rocket scientist to see what’s going on with the summons of the FrontPageAfrica management in relations to this controversial verdict, which we have reported and criticized without any regret.
Our lawyers are preparing our response and our defense of the summons from Judge Blamo and his court – and we will defend our rights, protect our sources and will never relent in our pursuit of the truth and will continue to expose corruption and take on drug traffickers, money launderers and the corrupt. This is our contribution to Liberia, and this is the only way we can ensure that Liberia does not return to its ugly past. We will speak truth to power and expose the corrupt – and the chips will fall, where they may.
WE STAND BY OUR sources and our report on this matter to the very end.
IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE that in the aftermath of the controversial verdict, the Ministry of Justice as appalling the not guilty verdict of Criminal Court “C” of the first judicial Circuit of Montserrado County at the Temple of Justice presided over by Judge A. Blamo Dixon in the 100-million drug bust trial.
JUSTICE MINISTER FRANK MUSAH DEAN Jr. noted that the verdict clearly undermines the collective efforts of Liberia and its international coalition to clamp down on the illegal transit of illicit drugs using West Africa as the conduit to trade narcotics internationally from Latin America and elsewhere.
THE MINISTER ACKNOWLEDGED that for Liberia to play its role effectively in this international fight against drug trafficking, money laundering, and other crimes associated with illicit drug transportation and sale, all three branches of the government must take this fight as a collective responsibility and not just the executive.
THE MINISTER NOTED: “If the Executive through the Joint Security of the country, working in concert with their international counterparts, is ramping up the strife to apprehend and bring to book illicit drug traffickers and money launderers, our drug laws must compliment such efforts through appropriate legislations, and the courts must be ready to act in conformity with the laws and gravity of the breach of our laws.”
THE MINISTER FURTHER asserted that it becomes worrisome and shameful as in the case of the recent verdict, for the courts to be setting hardcore criminals free when the evidence is overwhelming in the face of international security collaboration that tracked and brought the perpetrators of this heinous crime before the law. “There was 100-million USD worth of drug stacked in a container that landed in Monrovia and the accused were caught red-handed attempting to take ownership of the container holding the illicit drug by attempting to bribe the businessman housing the container, yet the court through the empaneled 12-man jury said such brazen evidence didn’t warrant a guilty verdict. What more can the joint security and the Justice Ministry do to convince the court that the law was broken” he retorted
MINISTER DEAN FURTHER NOTED, that what is even more concerning and despicable, is the fact that these kinds of verdicts only lend credence to the widely held international and local perception that the judiciary-namely the courts are inherently compromised and it has again ignited the lingering debate of whether the judicial system should continue with the age-old jury-trial process when there are always talks about the unethical practice of jury tampering during such trials.
THE PROBLEMS WITH Liberia’s justice system did not begin and will not end with FrontPageAfrica – or its reportage of this controversial case and verdict.
THE TRUTH of the matter is, the inefficacy of the jury system is in an impoverished, illiterate, and unenlightened country. However, as it is constitutional, a referendum is required as it is an urgent need to reform the jury system because it is not working. Even more troubling, it is time-consuming, expensive and ineffective.
SIMPLY PUT, it is time to execute basic reforms to rid ourselves of this system. In the process, we might also want to consider the right of the Republic to appeal an adverse verdict in criminal cases.
US AMBASSADOR MICHAEL Michael McCarthy, addressing the press Wednesday, aptly summed up what many in the diplomatic and international community are feeling about Liberia right now.
SAID AMBASSADOR MCCARTHY: “Like many Liberians, including the Minister of Justice, I was saddened to see the acquittal of suspects in both the recent human trafficking case and the US$100 million cocaine trafficking case. While I hesitate to second guess any jury, and I fully admit that I’m not privy to all the details of the prosecution and the defenses, I hope that these acquittals do not send a signal of enforcement to international criminal cartel. From an outsider’s prospective, it’s alarming that these convictions could not be contained in Liberia, even when the evidence seemed so overwhelming. I’m also worried about what these developments portend to Liberia’s justice sector which the United States government has supported with many millions of dollars and years in capacity development.”
OUR LAWYERS ARE preparing our response and our defense of the summons from Judge Blamo and his court – and we will defend our rights, protect our sources and will never relent in our pursuit of the truth and will continue to expose corruption and take on drug traffickers, money launderers and the corrupt.
THIS IS OUR CONTRIBUTION to Liberia, and this is the only way we can ensure that Liberia does not return to its ugly past. We will speak truth to power and expose the corrupt – and the chips will fall, where they may.