Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Liberia sends seven to US on cocaine-smuggling charges

Liberia has deported seven people to the US after they were arrested for allegedly trying to ship 4,000kg of cocaine there, the goverment says.

The suspects are accused of trying to bribe top Liberian officials to protect large cocaine shipments "since 2007".

The men have now been charged by prosecutors in New York with conspiracy to import cocaine.

In recent years West Africa has become a transit point for drugs en route from South America to Europe and the US.

Liberia's Solicitor-General Watkins Wrights read out a government statement, saying that the seven men were from Russia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Ghana.

He said they had tried to smuggle the cocaine, with a street value of $100m (£68m), from Colombia.

"Liberia is closed for business to the narcotics trade," Mr Wrights said.

The BBC's Jonathan Paye-Layleh in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, says the arrests were part of the US Drug Enforcement Administration's "Operation Relentless", in which Liberian and US authorities are working together in an effort to catch drug traffickers.

The suspects were communicating with Liberian officials in order to establish transit points for the exportation of cocaine to the US, our correspondent says.

The officials pretended to co-operate before turning the suspects over to the US authorities.

The men were sent from Liberia to the US between 28 May and 1 June, the government statement said.

West Africa has increasingly become a point favoured by Latin American drug cartels because of weak local law enforcement and a largely unsupervised coastline.

The drugs are flown or shipped across the Atlantic and then onto markets in Europe and the US.

There have been large cocaine seizures in other countries in the region, including Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

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