Cablegate: "Cocaine Saga" Topic of Government Press Conference


DE RUEHFN #0344 1991607
P 171607Z JUL 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. Summary: At a press conference on July 17, members of cabinet of
the GOSL as well as top-level law enforcement officers lauded their
own handling of the plane that landed July 13 at Lungi airport
carrying a large quantity of cocaine. The Minister of Information
confirmed the detention of 17 individuals at the Pademba Road
prison, of which 11 are foreign nationals. The Minister of
Transportation admitted that one of the arrested suspects, is his
brother, but denied any involvement. End summary.

2. In his opening remarks, Minister of Information and
Communications Alhaji I. B. Kargbo reaffirmed the GoSL's commitment
to pursuing the issue of the plane and its illicit cargo and urged
the public to support the government's efforts. He claimed to have
visited the Pademba Road prison earlier in the day and confirmed the
detention of 17 individuals in connection with the case, 11 of whom
are foreign nationals. Kargbo expressed his intention to read out
the names and nationalities of the foreign nationals, but was
discouraged by the Office of National Security (ONS) Coordinator,
Retired Brigadier Kelly Conteh.

3. Conteh claimed that his ONS had been "collecting intelligence
and making several presentations to the authorities" regarding drug
trafficking in the country, and was therefore unsurprised by the
incident. He attributed the rate at which investigations have
progressed to their prior knowledge of those involved in the drug
trade locally.

4. Conteh said he is not worried about Sierra Leone being
"blacklisted" for drug trafficking because the government has
demonstrated the will to investigate and pursue the matter to its
conclusion. He affirmed the government's commitment to "get down to
the bottom" of it and take appropriate action. Finally, he said
that President Koroma has issued the Military Aid to Civilian Power
(MACP) directive to help the security agencies investigate. As a
result, military personnel have been deployed at the airport on the
tarmac, around the perimeter, and near the consignment.

5. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation,
Zainab Bangura, also said she was not surprised by the incident, as
there have been many such incidents around the subregion, including
a recent seizure of cocaine worth half a billion dollars in Liberia.
She said she has been in communication with other governments in
the region to collaborate on how best to proceed and to ensure that
any cross-border fugitives are apprehended.

6. Bangura said that the international community have lauded the
GoSL for their handling of the matter, saying she has not received
any indications of negative action against the country as a result
of the incident. She praised the international response as swift
and helpful, and called the incident a "blessing in disguise"
because it may allow Sierra Leone to help other countries overcome
their challenges in terms of drug trafficking.

7. Bangura also said that many international security agencies have
arrived in the country to monitor the government's handling of the
situation, adding that some may be spies for the drug runners. She
did not specifically confirm the presence of an FBI team, but rather
said "FBI, CIA, you name it." (Comment: Embassy cannot verify the
Foreign Minister's claims. End Comment)

8. Assistant Inspector General of Police for Crime Services Francis
Munu said the police have collected sensitive information regarding
the incident, but refused to disclose it on the grounds that it
would compromise the investigation. He said three more Venezuelans
were arrested last night, bringing the total number of foreigners
arrested to 11. He said several other people were invited for
questioning and released but could be helpful to the prosecutions
during the trial phase.

9. Munu confirmed that an international drug trafficking
organization is operating in the country. He said that the SLP has
discovered that the vehicle used by the traffickers was not properly
registered. He reaffirmed the government's commitment to pursue the
matter, and shared assurances from INTERPOL of their support.
Finally, he said the police have refrained from indiscriminately
arresting people to avoid affecting Sierra Leone's international

10. Transport and Aviation Minister Kemoh Sesay said the plane
landed forcefully and without authorization. He said the airport
staff switched off the lights to try to prevent it from landing, but
the plane's crew landed anyway. He said he specifically recommended
to the President that the consignment be handled by an international
body because Sierra Leoneans generally distrust the police/security
agencies. He admitted that one of the arrested suspects, Ahmed
Sesay, is his brother, but denied responsibility for his brother's

© Scoop Media

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