African News

Drug bust in Senegal

22 July 2008 at 03:33 | 2165 views

According to Seneweb.com, Senegalese police are unravelling a Latin American drug smuggling network thought to be using the West African nation as a hub for trafficking to Europe and the United States after seizing cocaine worth over $200 million.

Police have discovered 2 454kg of cocaine and arrested three South American men since a deserted sailing ship, apparently broken down, drifted into a popular coastal resort last Wednesday with 50 sacks of the drug on board.

The arrests at the weekend of the men from Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador - who police said were caught in possession of guns, satellite navigation equipment and foreign and local cash - led authorities to discover a further drug stash in a private house.

"The South Americans created a fish farming company as a front in the (coastal town of) Ndangane where they invested millions before declaring the company bust and reinjecting the cash into the circuit," Moussa Fall, head of the investigation department of Senegal’s paramilitary police, told Reuters.

"Guinea-Bissau was obviously the entry point for the drugs. All the air tickets we have found were from Rio de Janeiro to Bissau. A minute part of the drugs was destined for the local market, the rest was bound for Europe and the United States."

One of the South American men was arrested at Saly, a coastal resort south of Dakar popular with European tourists, while the two others were arrested in the Sine Saloum, a sprawling river delta of lush mangrove swamps and islets.

Three Senegalese accomplices have also been arrested.

South American drug cartels have increasingly been moving their logistics bases to West Africa, lured by lax policing in an unstable region and by the presence of small, underground criminal networks already in place, security experts say.

Operating as flexible groups of individuals, they can recruit couriers among a cheap labour force in countries like Senegal who are then used to market illicit products to diaspora populations in European and U.S. drug markets.

But Antonio Mazzitelli, head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in West and Central Africa, said the latest seizure was probably the biggest ever in the region and suggested a more sophisticated trafficking operation.

"You cannot use west African couriers to smuggle 2,4 tons, it is too much," Mazzitelli said. "There must be bigger players using other means: ships, planes."

Consignments of cocaine have long come from Latin America through the Cape Verde islands off the Atlantic coast, or through Ghana, Nigeria and Togo, from where they are re-exported to markets including Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom.

Mazzitelli said the wholesale price for a kilo of cocaine in Spain, the main entry point to Europe, was around $42 000 in 2005. With a retail price twice that high, the Senegalese haul had a street value in Europe of more than $200 million.

More recently, UN officials have warned that former Portuguese colony Guinea-Bissau, just to the south of Senegal, could become overrun by drug cartels which its cash-strapped security forces are ill-equipped to tackle.

Few youths in sport-obsessed and Muslim Senegal use hard drugs such as cocaine but politicians worry that as the country develops and a growing sector of the population becomes wealthy, that may change unless the cartels are fought quickly.

"Young Senegalese users tend to take tablets, amphetamines, they also take Yamba (cannabis) in cigarettes and sometimes alcohol," parliamentarian Abdou Latif Gueye told local TV.

"We’re busy constructing roads and new buildings and that’s all well and good but we should be protecting our children from this deadly trade," he said.

Editor’s note: Special thanks to Lulu Abdullah of Sierra Leone Discussion Group for bringing this story to our attention.

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