US embassy cables: Ghana anti-drug staff warn passengers away from drug searches
Tuesday, 05 August 2008, 16:08
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ACCRA 001005
DEPT FOR AF/W, INL FOR JOHN LYLE
EO 12958 DECL: 07/30/2028
TAGS PINR, PGOV, PREL, SNAR, GH
SUBJECT: GHANA– UPDATE ON COUNTER-NARCOTICS ACTIVITIES
Classified By: Charge d’Affaires Sue K. Brown for reasons 1.4 (b) and ( d)
1. (U) Summary: The construction of an AFRICOM funded airport interdiction facility moved a step closer on July 29 with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Charge Sue K Brown and Ghana Narcotics Board Executive Secretary Ben Botwe. Five convicted cocaine traffickers received long prison sentences. Officials from western embassies participated in a “mini-Dublin” session to discuss narcotics interdiction efforts.
MOU Signed for Airpor Facility;
2. (U) CDA Sue K. Brown and Ghana Narcotics Board (NACOB) Executive Secretary Benjamin Botwe July 29 signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the construction of a $75,000 airport interdiction facility. The AFRICOM funded facility, to be located at Kotoka International Airport, will provide a climate controlled space to house sensitive equipment used in drug detection. (Note: Two USG purchased itemizers, capable of detecting drug residue, are currently not functioning.
The machines do not operate well in non-air conditioned spaces. End Note.) Executive Secretary Botwe used the event to lobby for an x-ray machine for airport interdiction efforts against “swallowers” who ingest pellets of cocaine. (Note: Post is working with INL and AFRICOM to obtain an x-ray machine for the airport and to support maintenance of the itemizers. End Note.)
NACOB Officials Talk Shop
3. (SBU) Following the signing, POLOFF, OSC Chief,IO and LES Political Specialist met with Botwe and top NACOB officials for a discussion on the state of the Narcotics Board. Botwe, who was appointed Secretary on an interim basis last year, told POLOFF that he was negotiating his return to his permanent position as Deputy Chief Executive of the Ghana Food and Drugs Board. (Note: A source at NACOB told EMBOFF that Botwe’s successor has been selected and an announcement could be made soon.) Botwe lamented NACOB’s position as a subordinate agency within the Ministry of Interior. He said that its status made it difficult to deal authoritatively with other Ministries and the Police Service, as NACOB needed to work within a chain of command that slowed operations and diverted resources. Botwe believes the Board needs independent status, such as an agency within the Office of the President. He added that any progress on an independent status for NACOB would need to wait until after the elections. Botwe noted that NACOB had grown significantly under his time as Executive Secretary, and its 150 member staff was projected to reach five hundred by 2010.
4.(SBU). POLOFF asked Botwe about the planned Africa Partnership Station, a US Navy maritime security program. The NACOB head said that he hoped his agency could participate in the training, nad added that participation would serve as an opportunity for the NACOB to enter into talks with the Ghana Armed Forces (and in particular the navy) on inter-agency cooperation, which is currently limited.
5.SBU) POLOFF asked Botwe about the recent seizure of a large shipment of cocaine that originated in Guinea. The shipment was stopped outside of Accra by police, but other than the three individuals in the vehicle, no arrests have been made. Botwe and his officials agreed that more patience in conducting investigations was needed in order to arrest those higher up in trafficking circles. He cited the need for better cooperation among Ghanaian law enforcement organizations.
Cocaine Traffickers Receive Long Sentences
5. (U) A Ghanaian court sentenced five traffickers each to twenty-five year prison terms. The five, involved in the MV Benjamin cocaine case, attempted in 2006 to land 2,300 kilograms of cocaine to Ghana. (Note: Some of the confiscated product later disappeared, mysteriously, from the Ghana Police Service’s secured evidence storage facility. End Note). The five included three Ghanaians and two Chinese; a South Korean originally indicted was found not-guilty. The trial judge, Justice Anin Yeboah, said that the harm caused
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to the country by the rise in narcotic trafficking made it imperative for the court to issue lengthy sentences as a deterrent.
Accra Mini-Dublin Meeting Held April 24
6. (SBU) POLOFF attended the April 24 Mini-Dublin session. Representatives from the UK, French, Canada, the EU, Dutch and other western missions participate regularly in the committee. The French DCM reported that her Mission had arranged for a year’s supply of drug test kits to be provided to Ghanaian authorities. The Ghanaians had allowed their inventory of kits to run out, requiring a last minute rush to obtain new kits. The UK representatives said that SOCA (Serious Organized Crime Agency) was increasing its presence in West Africa and will be posting in September or October a liaison officer in Accra. A Royal Navy vessel (HMS Endurance) will visit Ghana approximately August 20 as part of a maritime security program. The leader of the UK Project Westbridge (which conducts drug interdiction operations with NACOB at Ghana’s international airport) described a training package available through the UN, currently used in Nigeria. He has held discussions with NACOB officials about using the modules in Ghana, and possibly expanding training to drug officials from other West African countries. The EU representative said that a team of narcotics experts were in West Africa. POLOFF told attendees that the DEA’s plans to open an Accra office later this year were still on schedule.
7. (C) The French embassy official expressed concern over Ghanaian traffickers increasing use of Lome as a trans-shipment point for narcotics to France, via the regular Air France flights. The UK official who directs Project Westbridge described recent operations, which have included six seizures in the past month. He has observed NACOB agents at the airport (particularly Ghana Police Service officers on loan to NACOB) directing passengers away from flights receiving extra interdiction scrutiny. On one occasion, he returned unexpectedly to the airport at 4 a.m. to screen a flight. An arrested trafficker told the UK official that the trafficker had been told that Westbridge was not operating that night. A test by Westbridge officials of the cell phone SIM card of a trafficker found the phone numbers of senior NACOB officials. The UK official lamented that Ghanaian authorities return to arrested traffickers their EU identity cards, which allow entry and residence in the EU. He noted that depriving traffickers of their EU permits “hurts them worse than prison.”
8. (C) Comment. The Project Westbridge team’s concerns over the integrity of NACOB personnel at the airport are neither new nor surprising. Nor is the concern limited to the NACOB– the MV Benjamin’s missing cocaine from the Police Service evidence room shows that corruption is an issue throughout Ghana’s counter-narcotics program. The ease of fast money in the narcotics trade is a powerful incentive for corruption. Until the authorities expand beyond interdiction, to arresting middlemen and the so-called drug barons, it is difficult to see how the drug problem will be controlled. Initiatives such as the airport facility, x-ray machine and Project Westbridge are important and should be supported, but are not sufficient alone. End Comment. BROWN