You are here: HomeNews2006 09 01Article 109875

General News of Friday, 1 September 2006

Source: Torornto Star

Torornto Star: Drug mystery grips Ghana

Massive amount of cocaine missing after raid at sea
Drug traffickers allegedly seen at tribal king's palace

ACCRA, Ghana—Under the black blanket of an April sky, narcotics control officers raided a boat bobbing in the waves off Ghana's main harbour.

Intelligence reports suggested more than 2,000 kg of South American cocaine was hidden in the boat's hold, packaged in 78 parcels weighing 30 kg each, with a rumoured street value of more than $270 million.

If this was a big-budget movie, a brilliantly choreographed takedown would have ensued, with the cops storming the seas while navy recruits on standby offed the drug barons in an artful display of heavy artillery and precision shooting.

Instead, the officers returned to shore virtually empty-handed.

Only one packet of drugs was found on the boat; of that, another 5 kg went missing after it was submitted as evidence.

Now a judicial commission looking into who tipped off the drug smugglers is painting a picture of Ghana as a gateway for drugs smuggled from Venezuela or Colombia to European cities in Spain, Portugal and the U.K.

Each day's testimony — dissected with gusto on radio call-in shows and splashed across multiple page of the next day's newspapers — brings more claims that Ghanaian cops are in cahoots with South American drug lords.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Dakar, Senegal, officers have seized more than 11.1 tonnes of cocaine en route to West Africa or leaving West Africa for Europe between 2000 and 2004.

Ivory Coast, Ghana's westerly neighbour, was once seen as the major hub for heroin and cocaine, but since a civil war broke out in 2002, the drug trade has moved to some of the region's more stable countries.

Ghana's growing image as a drug corridor is made worse by the fact that Eric Amoateng, a member of Parliament, sits in jail in New York on charges of drug trafficking.

Now it seems that a tribal king, usually seen in sumptuous traditional fabrics and dripping with gold trinkets from the mines that dot his accepted kingdom, is implicated.

Witnesses have testified some of the suspected drug traffickers visited his palace. At least one witness alleged the king called for a delay in the police investigation into the missing drugs.

His brother-in-law is one of four men charged with drug smuggling in connection with the case. (None of the allegations made at the commission have been proven in court.)

The numbers certainly support the idea that Ghana is fast becoming a quick route for cocaine working its way to Europe.

Narcotics control officers monitoring Ghana's international airport seized more than 600 kg of cocaine and another 71.5 kg of heroin in 2004.

"Most are from so-called stuffers and swallowers, who secrete narcotics in their bodily orifices or swallow them wrapped in condoms, for later retrieval," said Amado Philip de Andrés, deputy regional representative for the UN's office on drugs and crime.

The sting operation is not high tech — suspected drug couriers are taken to hospital and X-rayed — but that's a massive jump from the 17 kg of cocaine seized in 2000.

The five-member commission investigating the whereabouts of the missing drugs was initially expected to point the finger at the narcotics control board.

Then a secret tape-recording of Assistant Police Commissioner Kofi Boakye discussing the missing coke with known drug traffickers was turned over to a local newspaper.

And the glamorous Ghanaian girlfriend of one of the suspected Venezuelan drug smugglers came forward with the story of a $200,000 bribe she hand-delivered to Boakye.

De Andrés said although few drug officers think politicians are working with drug dealers, there have been several cases where trials have been halted or charges dropped on the instructions of a person in power.

"It's fair to say that law enforcement in Ghana are generally professional and honest," de Andrés said. "There are numerous examples of the success of Ghanaian law enforcement agencies in fighting organized criminal groups involved in drug trafficking."

The West African country is considered by the international community and charities alike to be a model of stability and good governance in a region awash in corruption and conflict. Still, most Ghanaians aren't surprised by the idea that the cops may be on the take.

More than 90 per cent of people polled by the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development said they'd either bribed or been asked to bribe a police officer.

The committee's report on its findings are expected next month.

Join our Newsletter