- Police in The Gambia have seized more than two tonnes of cocaine worth and estimated US$ 1 billion. The 12 arrested foreign nationals were taken to court today, accused of drugs trafficking.
According to Gambian police sources, the record seizure totalled 2.341 kilograms of very pure cocaine. The cocaine's worth is estimated at US$ 1 billion - more than The Gambia's total GDP, set at US$ 851 in 2009.
During the raid in a warehouse in north-western Gambia, police also had secured large quantities of cash and loaded firearms.
The seizure was announced yesterday, but the operation against the foreign drug traffickers already started on 12 May. Police had raided a residential estate, arresting 12 foreigners with 3 kilograms of cocaine and large quantities of euro bills. The foreigners were said to be nationals of the Netherlands, Venezuela, Ghana and Nigeria.
According to information gained by the independent Gambian newspaper 'The Point', police investigations later led to the discovery of the warehouse where the seizure of over two tonnes of cocaine was made on Friday last week. Investigations had been done in cooperation with the British Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).
British sources confirm that SOCA assisted in securing the large cocaine shipment, which was hidden behind a false wall in the warehouse's basement. The cocaine had been hidden in bricks, stored in 85 sacks.
However, an additional 60 empty sacks were found at the site, indicating that the drugs traffickers had already managed to ship some of their merchandise to Europe.
Investigators believe that a Gambia-based fishing company had served as a front for the drug cartel's operations in the country. The company is owned by the arrested Dutch national and had several Venezuelan employees and its operations had originally caught the interest of Gambian police.
The Gambian drug bust is the greatest ever in West Africa, a region which is turning into a key trans-shipment point for Latin American drugs on their way to Europe. Poor coastal and border controls in addition to corrupt servicemen make the region an ideal transit destination.
So far, Guinea-Bissau had been pointed to as the hotspot for drug trafficking in West Africa. The impoverished, chronically unstable and corrupt country has a very large and mostly unmonitored coastline, literally inviting drug smugglers. Several military strongmen in Guinea-Bissau have been put in connection with drug money by US investigators, and they have also been known to operate in neighbouring countries such as The Gambia.
Through the Bissau connection, also high-ranking Gambian officials have been linked to the drug cartel. There have been various unconfirmed reports about power struggles between pro and anti-drug factions within the Gambian police and armed forces.
Only in March this year, thus Inspector General of Police Ensa Badjie was detained during a wave of arrests, now on trial for 51 criminal charges including drug trafficking, corruption and theft. While the Gambian prosecution describes ex-police chief Badjie as the key person offering protection to drug cartels operating in The Gambia, opposition voices instead claim Mr Badjie was fighting corrupt persons higher up in the hierarchy earning their money from the drugs trade.
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