By Mustapha Jallow
The Drug Law Enforcement Agency of The Gambia (DLEAG) has intercepted drugs with an estimated street value of more than $80-million US dollars (4.5 billion dalasis) at Banjul sea-port on 7th January 2021.
The DLEAG announced this on Friday, calling the catch the “biggest seizure of drugs in Gambian history,’’.
Experts suggested that drug-related crimes are something that the drug agency takes extremely seriously – because the drug can lead to addiction, illness, killing, robbery, death and other forms of crimes.
The containers were burst through intelligence gathering, according to an under-cover secret agent of DLEAG.
On 8th January, reporters were led inside the container that is containing the drugs by the lead intelligence and investigation officer who narrated how investigators executed a thorough search and intercepted the biggest drug consignment so far in the service’s history.
The shipping containers originated from Ecuador, South-American continent, which is roughly the size of Colorado and is bordered by Colombia and Peru.
One person has been arrested so far, who is identified as a co-dealer (an agent) – but the drug lord is at large and he’s currently being hunted by the narcotic detectives.
While at the scene, a team of Forensic Science Laboratory technicians at DLEAG arrived at 12 noon. The unit was responsible for weighing and preliminary tests (sample analysis). First, they began weighing the bags, which took at least an hour before commencing the preliminary test.
The cocaine loaded in 118 bags weighed 2 tons, 952kg and 850grams, according to weighing officers. Also, the analysis officers conducted a preliminarily test with a drug test kit referred to as colour test using salt and powder to identify the suspected cocaine.
The agent said they received intelligence about the coming of a ship and it was monitored through intelligence network operations.
Several other sister security outfits were present during the weighing and preliminary test such as secret agents from Criminal Intelligence Unit of the Police, National Intelligence Agency (NIA), military intelligence and officials of Gambia Ports Authority.
The containers were heavily guarded by armed personnel of Police Intervention Unit referred to as paramilitary.
The place was sealed as a crime scene. It was a long process and officers spent 3 hours to conducting the testing activities.
The suspects involved may face multiple drug-related charges such as dealing, trafficking and even conspiracy but this cannot be done until the officers conclude their investigation and submit the analytical report. The cocaine loaded in 118 bags labelled ‘Salt Industrial’ were put in a red-colored container numbered SUDU-7531754, while the 3 other containers are containing salt each 1000 bags.
During the preliminarily test, the test kit showed the colour of the power (cocaine) changed to blue, but the colour of the salt remain the same.
Sheriff Njie, the agent of the drug lord was brought in hand-cuffed and was escorted by DLEA officers to ensure he witnessed the examination and weighing process.
Initial investigations suggested that the containers belong to one Banka Keita, holder of a French passport #17CE91360. According to the passport biodata, he was born on 3rd January 1984. He is a resident of Fajara M Section, Kanifing Municipality.
Upon busting the drugs, Lamin J. Gassama – the Director of Intelligence/Investigation & International Cooperation of DLEAG told reporters they used a machine that usually shows cocaine positive. He further showed two bags to the reporters in order to differentiate them and both have similar pictures and written text indicating “Sal Industrial,’’ and 25kg on it.
He said they were able to take pictures during the process, and the search then continues – and suddenly they were able to discover that the bags in the container contain powder unlike the others.
The other bags contained salt, Gassama said, adding this is an industrial salt that is basically used for cleaning swimming pools and so on. He said the four containers shipped by the suspect were searched by the DLEA and only one contained the cocaine.
Demba S. Jammeh, Director of forensic investigation at DLEAG said they were at the crime scene to weigh the cocaine and conduct sample analysis, adding this was to confirm that what was found in the container was cocaine.
DLEAG spokesperson Ousman SaidyBah said: “This seizure of more than 2 tons, 952kg, 850grams of cocaine – is a history and a record in the history of this country.’’
He added less than a month; there was a seizure of half a ton of Moroccan hashish.
SaidyBah revealed that some of the concealment method the traffickers used is so sophisticated that without adequate materials, detection and equipment – it will be very difficult for them to know.
Saidybah stated that three of the containers (SUDU 753 1754, TLLU 2135 228 & TCLU 250 5880) originated from GUYAQUIL port (Ecuador) and were transported by MAERSK LINE SHIPPING COMPANY. He said they were transshipped at the port of Algeciras in Spain before proceeding to Banjul, arriving on 1st January 2021.
“The fourth container (TGCU 212 7190) also originated from GUYAQUIL port (Ecuador) transported by MSC. It was transshipped at Amtwerp, Belgium, then Las Palmas, Spain and it finally arrived at the Banjul ports on 27th December 2020,’’ according to him.
He further told reporters that all the four containers were shipped by ECU WORLDWIDE ECUADOR SA and consigned to BOLLORE TRANSPORT and LOGISTICS as their local partner. However, he revealed that an in-house Bill of Lading was issued by ECU WORLDWIDE to the actual consignee (CIRCUIT LONG TRADING CLT (Ltd) with Mr Sherif Njie as the contact person.
On Monday 4th January 2020, according to SaidyBah, physical search was conducted on container number TGCU 212 7190 but it was found to be containing only salt. He continued to explain that the search continued on Thursday, 7th January 2021 on the remaining three containers, resulting in the discovery of one hundred and eighteen (118) bags containing cocaine in container number SUDU7531754.
He said Mr Sheriff Njie is currently in custody helping the investigation team while the hunt for MR Banta Keita continues.
“We strongly advise the general public to be vigilant and solicit their cooperation to provide information on the whereabouts of Mr Banka Keita to the nearest DLEAG/Police Station. The public is reminded that offering any type of assistance to Mr Keita to escape or harboring him amount to a criminal offence as provided by the Drug Control Act, 2003,’’ he said
“This seizure is yet another confirmation that The Gambia like other West African States continues to be used as storage and transit route for cocaine by international organized criminal groups. Certainly, these drugs are not destined for the Gambia, thus not for local consumption.”