Cablegate: Sierra Leone International Narcotics Control

DE RUEHFN #0430/01 3061549
R 021549Z NOV 09




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: STATE 97230

1. Please see the following draft of the Sierra Leone
2009-2010 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report,
keyed to reftel:

2) Summary

Sierra Leone has taken steps to combat illicit trafficking of
narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances and has mounted
efforts against drug abuse. It has limited enforcement,
treatment, and rehabilitation programs; however, corruption
and a lack of resources seriously impede interdiction
efforts. The 2008 seizure of over 700kg of cocaine
culminated in a criminal court case that ended this year, but
many believe that this demonstration of Sierra Leone's rule
of law has not been a deterrent to traffickers. However,
overall Sierra Leone made limited efforts to combat the drug
flow in 2009, hampered by resource issues and limited
operational sophistication. Sierra Leone-U.S. law
enforcement coordination on the narcotics issue increased in
2009, culminating in expulsions of wanted narcotics
traffickers into U.S. custody in April. This unprecedented
level of cooperation has already set the tone for further
collaboration and engagement in the future. Interagency
coordination among Sierra Leone's law enforcement entities is
a challenge, but the Joint Drug Interdiction Task Force
created in 2008 is now a well-functioning group that spans
agencies and interests. Sierra Leone is a party to the 1988
UN Drug Convention.

3) Status of Country

Sierra Leone is a transshipment point for illegal drugs,
particularly cocaine from South America. Europe is usually
the final destination, often via sub-regional neighbors such
as Guinea, though recent reports indicate that direct flights
from Freetown to London and Brussels are also vulnerable.
Lungi International Airport in Freetown is one focus for
traffickers, though reports indicate that small, unmarked air
strips throughout the country are also used. Narcotics
primarily move overland or via sea to Guinea, with Konakridee
near Port Loko as the usual port of exit. South American
cocaine trafficking rings are increasingly active in Sierra
Leone, relying somewhat on local partners with political and
military connections. Trafficking has also fueled increasing
domestic drug consumption. Cannabis cultivation is on the
rise in Sierra Leone and used regularly here. Law
enforcement officials are concerned that narcotics rings are
growing in size and influence. Major drug traffickers pay
local accomplices in kind, and Freetown now has a "street
price" of 40,000 Leones (USD 10.00) for a gram of cocaine.
Diversion of precursor chemicals is not a problem.

4) Country Actions Against Drugs in 2009

a) Policy Initiatives: The National Drug Control Act was
passed in 2008 to bring Sierra Leone into conformity with
international conventions and norms. The Act expands on the
Dangerous Drugs Act (1960) and the Pharmacy and Drugs Act
(2001), which had major substantive drafting problems and
inadequate punishment for narcotics abuse and trafficking.
The 2008 Act established a National Drug Law Enforcement
Agency (NDLEA) to serve as the focal point on policy issues
and investigations. The new law also defined stricter
penalties for all charges, contained mutual legal assistance
provisions, and authorized a budget appropriation to support
prevention and control activities. While the new Act was a
positive step for Sierra Leone, harmonizing its legislation
with international standards, many authorities have noted
that revisions are required to increase its effectiveness.
Offenses by legal &persons8, i.e., corporations and
provisions for complicit or insufficiently responsible
commercial carriers, and in addition the sections on
forfeiture and foreign assets have been identified as areas
needing either new or strengthened drafting. The Act also
fails to adequately address prevention measures and treatment
options for addicted drug abusers. The law will likely be
revised in 2010, following the conclusion of the appeals
process for individuals convicted under the Act in 2009.

-- The NDLEA has a limited budget and staff. Sixty officers
have been seconded from the Sierra Leone Police, but lack
equipment and support to effectively perform their duties.
The Agency has offices in five locations outside of Freetown,
but they are not yet operational. The Agency intends to
increase its efforts in the area of demand reduction and
public awareness.

FREETOWN 00000430 002 OF 004

-- Government of Sierra Leone representatives participate in
ECOWAS conferences and Mano River Union meetings, striving
for better sub-regional cooperation. Law enforcement
agencies cooperate with their counterparts in neighboring
countries on specific cases and identifying trends.

b) Law Enforcement Efforts: Sierra Leone law enforcement
agencies cooperated to combat narcotics trafficking through
the Joint Drug Interdiction Task Force, which was established
in 2008. The Task Force includes representatives from the
SLP, Office of National Security (ONS), NDLEA, Republic of
Sierra Leone Armed Forces, Immigration, Civil Aviation
Authority, Anti-Corruption Commission, and the National
Revenue Authority. The 2008 cocaine bust is counted as the
Task Force's main success to date, and a significant one.
The Task Force performed with distinction during this high
profile incident, and has continued to expand and increase in
sophistication in 2009. Thanks to significant training
efforts supported by international partners, the Task Force
consists of 60 enforcement officers, including surveillance
and forensic specialists. The Task Force is now a pro-active
unit which generates and shares intelligence, conducts
large-scale operations, and responds quickly to emergent
threats. It will continue to be the primary government body
responsible for narcotics-related crimes until the new
National Drug Law Enforcement Agency becomes fully

-- Drugs transit in and out of Sierra Leone by sea, but
authorities have limited means to combat this. The Joint
Maritime Wing, composed of military and police officials,
conduct minimal patrols with two small vessels provided by
the U.S. Coast Guard and a larger, Shanghai-class patrol
boat donated by the Chinese Government. The expense of fuel
and maintenance is an impediment to the Wing's effectiveness,
as is the short-range nature of the patrol boats available to
them. The Chinese-built boat, despite its longer range, has
a shallow draft and is unsuitable for deep water operations.

-- The Government of Sierra Leone is working to improve the
regularity and reliability of statistics maintained on arrest
rates, prosecutions, and convictions. Data kept by the SLP
between January and October, 2008, recorded seventeen
seizures of cannabis and cocaine, netting approximately
10,602 kg of the former, and 743.5 kg of the latter.
Twenty-one people were charged with various offenses
surrounding the 2008 case, and 17 faced narcotics charges in
the High Court. Fifteen individuals were ultimately
convicted, with custodial sentences ranging from three to
five years. There were no narcotics-related extraditions to
or from the United States in 2009.

c) Corruption: Sierra Leone does not, as a matter of
government policy, encourage or facilitate illicit production
or distribution of narcotic or psychotropic drugs or other
controlled substances, or the laundering of proceeds from
illegal drug transactions, nor has any senior official been
charged with engaging in, encouraging, or facilitating
narcotics production or trafficking. However, Sierra Leone's
judicial system is still undergoing a rebuilding process, and
struggles with low conviction rates across a spectrum of
crimes, including those that are narcotics-related. Even
those violators who are convicted often pay a fine in lieu of
serving prison time, though the new National Drug Control Act
has stiffer penalties and requisite jail terms. The limited
resources available to the judiciary remain a problem in
controlling drug trafficking in Sierra Leone.

-- Corruption among law enforcement officials is also a
problem in Sierra Leone due to the low levels of pay and
general endemic poverty. Two SLP officers and one ONS
officer were convicted for their role in the July 2008
cocaine bust.

d) Agreements and Treaties: Sierra Leone is a party to the
1988 UN Drug Convention, the 1971 UN Convention on
Psychotropic Substances, and the 1961 UN Single Convention,
as amended by the 1972 Protocol. U.S.-Sierra Leone
extradition relations are governed by the 1974 Extradition
Act. Sierra Leone is a party to the UN Convention against
Corruption. In March 2008, Sierra Leone ratified the African
Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, five
years after they became signatories. Though Sierra Leone
signed the UN Convention against Transnational Organized
Crime in 2001, it has yet to ratify it.

e) Cultivation and Production: Cannabis is widely cultivated
and consumed locally, and is also transported to surrounding
countries and Europe. The Joint Drug Interdiction Task Force

FREETOWN 00000430 003 OF 004

conducted multiple raids of cannabis farms, and noted that
cultivation appears to be increasing; the government is
concerned that cannabis production is crowding-out regular
subsistence farming, and is a threat to food security. One
&joint8 costs approximately 1,000 Leones, (25 U.S. cents)
on the streets of Freetown.

f) Drug Flow/Transit: Cocaine is the main drug that transits
Sierra Leone. Cocaine comes from South America en route to
Europe. Sierra Leone's unguarded and porous maritime border
makes it highly vulnerable to traffickers moving shipments by
sea. Narcotics are often held and repackaged in Sierra Leone
for reshipment to Guinea, though some go directly to Europe
via shipping containers or in air cargo. Individuals also
carry small amounts on passenger aircraft, sometimes in their
baggage or items with hidden compartments, and through body
cavity concealment. In October, a Nigerian citizen was
stopped with 12 balloons of cocaine in his stomach;
authorities believe that this practice is increasing in
Sierra Leone.

-- Improving security at Lungi Airport has been a priority
for authorities and the international airlines that use it,
and luggage is scanned for contraband. Individuals are also
searched, as well as hand-luggage searches, resulting in most
of the arrests at the airport to date. Still, officials
assume that the drugs found are only a small portion of what
slips through the cracks due to imperfect detection efforts
and corruption.

g) Domestic Programs: The NDLEA, in conjunction with civil
society, has conducted several public awareness campaigns
about the dangers of drugs. This includes outreach to
schools and over radio, and the publication of posters and
pamphlets. The Agency intends to increase these efforts in
2009. Treatment programs are highly limited, with addicts
receiving assistance at the country's one psychiatric
hospital and a few private facilities run by NGOs. The 2008
law puts treatment and rehabilitation for offenders under the
purview of the Minister of Justice and appointed treatment
assessment panels. Treatment can be in lieu of prosecution,
or result in a sentence suspension, to be determined on a
case-by-case basis. Funding for treatment and facilities
will be provided by the Sierra Leone Fund for Prevention and
Control of Drug Abuse, which will include funds from
Parliament, moneys provided through mutual assistance
agreements, voluntary payments, grants, or gifts, and
investment income derived from the Fund. The Fund will also
be used to support the Agency's overall efforts.

5) U.S. Policy Initiatives and Programs

a) Bilateral Cooperation: The USG's counternarcotics and
anticrime goals in Sierra Leone are to strengthen Sierra
Leonean law enforcement capacity generally, improve
interdiction capabilities, and reduce Sierra Leone's role as
a transit point for narcotics. In 2008, Sierra Leone became
eligible for ILEA-U.S Law Enforcement Academy training, and
officers have started attending courses. Narcotics-specific
training, as well as related training, was prioritized in
2009; the JDITF and others benefited from several
USG-sponsored events, including surveillance training and
investigation techniques for transnational organized crime

-- In April, 2009, Sierra Leone expelled three foreign
nationals into U.S. custody. These individuals, who were
prosecuted in Sierra Leone for their role in the 2008 cocaine
bust, were removed to the United States to face charges there
and assist with significant ongoing investigations. Though
there is no overarching bilateral mutual legal assistance
treaty between Sierra Leone and the U.S., eight months of
negotiation and collaboration paved the way for a successful
expulsion by the authority of Sierra Leonean law. The
expulsion sent a powerful message that Sierra Leone is an
active and cooperative partner in the global war on drugs,
using both their own domestic legal framework and their
positive relationships with other nations to bring criminals
to justice.

b) The Road Ahead: The April conviction of 15 traffickers,
including 7 foreigners, strongly indicated that Sierra Leone
is trying to stem the tide of organized crime that is
infiltrating the sub-region. Ongoing efforts to train and
mobilize the enforcement group, as well as willingness to
collaborate with international partners, also demonstrate
Sierra Leone's tough stance on drugs. However, having a will
does not necessarily mean that there is a way ) limited
funding to effectively enforce the 2008 law remains a

FREETOWN 00000430 004 OF 004

significant problem. Enhancing law enforcement's capacity to
combat the drug trade through training and equipment and
reducing corruption within the ranks require funds the Sierra
Leonean government simply does not have. Enforcing strict
controls over financial transactions, to prevent funds earned
from the narcotics trade being used for further criminal
activity, is also an unaffordable necessity for Sierra Leone.
Strengthening law enforcement capabilities, enhancing
security measures at the airport, and improving surveillance
of the ports and waterways are important priorities that the
government can ill-afford to ignore if it seeks to prevent
Sierra Leone from becoming an even more attractive target for
criminal organizations.

© Scoop Media

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