Cablegate: Counter Narcotics Head Denies Politics at Board


DE RUEHAR #1070/01 2811525
R 081525Z OCT 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L ACCRA 001070


EO 12958 DECL: 10/08/2019

Classified By: Charge d,Affaires Julie Furuta-Toy for reasons 1.4(b) an d (d).

1. (C) SUMMARY: Narcotics Control Board (NACOB) Executive Secretary Yaw Akrasi Sarpong told Poloffs October 5 that while he is a staunch supporter of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), party politics has no place at the NACOB. Sarpong complained about the lack of effective narcotics enforcement in neighboring countries, accused XXXXXXXXXX of complicity in drug trafficking, and said that traffickers are using the airport VVIP lounge to avoid searches. While President Mills has been outspoken in his determination to combat drug trafficking, Sarpong said that the NDC government has failed so far to provide NACOB with adequate resources, and stressed that low salaries make law enforcement personnel highly vulnerable to drug traffickers. END SUMMARY

2. (SBU) On October 5, Pol Chief and Poloff met with the newly appointed Executive Secretary of NACOB Sarpong. He was appointed to the government’s top anti-narcotics trafficking job in July 2009 and has moved quickly to establish his own imprimatur on the position. Sarpong stated that “I am a political man” outlining his time as former President Jerry Rawlings’ youngest cabinet minister in the mid 1980s, but claimed emphatically that “there is no politics here” referring to NACOB. He claimed to track all drug dealers regardless of their political affiliation yet simultaneously made disparaging categorical remarks about drug connections in the former New Patriotic Party (NPP) government, now the opposition party (and the influence on politics of money derived from drug trafficking).

3. (C) Sarpong stated unequivocally that XXXXXXXXXX answered directly to Ghana’s drug lords. He repeated the statement several times and said that he makes the accusation publicly whenever possible. However, while President Mills has struck the right rhetorical tone regarding his commitment to combating narcotics, Sarpong said that the Mills Administration has so far failed to provide adequate resources to NACOB. He underlined that the force is understaffed, underfunded, and underresourced. (COMMENT: Sarpong implied that police are open to corruption because of their personal financial situation. END COMMENT)

4. (C) The Executive Secretary noted that Ghana,s difficulty in effectively preventing the inflow of drugs across its land borders highlights the regional nature of drug trafficking in West Africa, as well as serious shortcomings in the police capabilities in Ghana,s three neighbors. Sarpong said that if his office arranged for a controlled drop in Cote d’Ivoire, the drugs would quickly wind up back in Ghana. Drugs originating in Guinea could travel through Mali and Burkina Faso and enter Ghana from the north “and no one would stop them.” Sarpong also questioned how “$700,000” mansions could be built in the poor region adjacent to the main Ghana-Togo border crossing or how a single Nigerian woman could buy large parcels of beach front property and no one questions the source of her funds.

5. (C) In the context of where to install a USG funded body scanner at the airport, Sarpong outlined ways in which drugs are smuggled out of the Accra airport. In addition to the individual “mules” who ingest small quantities of drugs or conceal the drugs in luggage or body cavities, airport workers have been arrested for passing drugs to travelers after they have completed security formalities. Sarpong also said that drugs are smuggled out of the airport through the “VVIP” (Very Very Important Person) lounge. Sarpong said that in the previous administration, Ghanaians with a contact in the Foreign Ministry could obtain a pass to the lounge from the State Protocol Office that entitled the traveler to be driven from the lounge to the plane in a protocol vehicle without their person or luggage undergoing security screening. He commented that bank managers, pastors, and their wives were given service passports and access to the lounge and questioned why these middle class travelers were awarded privileges traditionally reserved for cabinet ministers.

6. (SBU) Before concluding the meeting, Sarpong asked the USG for assistance in preventing Ghanaian drug lords and their families from receiving visas to travel to the U.S. Sarpong claims that the drug barons can easily provide financial statements that help qualify them for travel visas but that once they get to the U.S. or Europe, they legitimize their money by buying property or sending their children to expensive schools. He suggested that there should be greater scrutiny of those with substantial financial resources but without a clear source of that wealth, and said law enforcement would better be able to convict traffickers if their money stays in Ghana where it can be traced.

7. (C) COMMENT: Sarpong appears determined to aggressively address Ghana,s narcotics trafficking problem, and has clearly been emboldened by President Mills, public support for this effort. His experience in intelligence and the NDC provides him the weight, and status to deal independently with the challenges facing NACOB. Nevertheless, Sarpong,s comments indicate that corruption (whether resulting from the low salaries paid to police personnel or the selling of VVIP airport privileges) remains a major obstacle to success. In addition, despite positive rhetoric it remains unclear whether the Mills Administration will devote the resources that Sarpong feels are so far lacking. END COMMENT FURUTA-TOY

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