US embassy cables: Ghana president wanted his entourage checked for drugs
Tuesday, 10 November 2009, 09:04
C O N F I D E N T I A L ACCRA 001179
EO 12958 DECL: 11/05/2024
TAGS PGOV, SNAR, KCOR, GH
SUBJECT: GHANAIAN CONCERN OVER DRUG SMUGGLING BY VIP
REF: ACCRA 1070
Classified By: Ambassador Donald Teitelbaum for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d) .1.
(C) SUMMARY: On November 4, the head of the UK’s “Operation Westbridge,” the British government’s anti-narcotics operation at Accra International Airport, told Poloff that President John Atta Mills wants itemizers for the Presidential suite at the airport to screen his entourage for drugs when leaving the country, and that the Narcotics Control Board’s (NACOB) placement of officers in the VVIP lounge at the airport has led to a decline in the number of departing passengers using the lounge. O’Hagan also said he believes that two of the USG-funded itemizers at the airport were rendered useless by sabotage and suggested that airlines might be willing to pay for itemizer maintenance. END SUMMARY
2. (C) Poloff met November 4 with Roland O’Hagan, Project Manager for Operation Westbridge and an official with the UK Border Agency.
O’Hagan said that President Mills had expressed interest in acquiring itemizers for the Presidential suite at the airport in order to screen his entourage for drugs before boarding any departing flight. According to O’Hagan, Mills wants these officials to be checked in the privacy of his suite to avoid any surprises if they are caught carrying drugs.
The itemizers, similar to those provided several years ago by the U.S. Embassy through INL funding, would be sensitive, portable screening devices that can detect the drug content in minuscule drops of human sweat after recent external contact or for up to three weeks after ingestion.
3. (C) O’Hagan also said that NACOB believes that the VVIP lounge at the airport has been a source of drugs leaving the country. Passengers leaving the lounge are driven directly to the plane and are not searched before departure. NACOB placed two officers in the lounge to screen departing passengers, and the number of passengers using the VVIP lounge has decreased.
(COMMENT: The Executive Secretary of NACOB previously told Poloffs that bank managers, pastors, and their wives were given official passports and access to the lounge by the Kufuor administration and questioned why these middle class travelers were awarded privileges traditionally reserved for cabinet ministers. END COMMENT)
4. (C) O’Hagan noted that among four itemizers provided to the GOG to detect drug smugglers among airline passengers, all are now non-functioning. According to O’Hagan, two itemizers that the USG gave to NACOB are still operational. O’Hagan said that the airport itemizers were kept in a dusty, un-air conditioned room that caused them to break frequently. He noted that the airport director promised in October 2008 to install an air conditioner in the store room, but that she left her job two weeks after making the promise, and an air conditioner has not been installed.
5. (C) Maintenance of the itemizers is an on-going concern. The equipment has broken frequently since it arrived, but O’Hagan said that the last two operational machines were incapacitated by sabotage. He believes the machines were sabotaged because they were in a storage room, and the filters were removed. The knowledge required to remove the filters exceeded the basic knowledge of the operators.
6. (C) O’Hagan said that he believes the airlines might be willing to pay for the itemizers to be repaired, and specifically mentioned KLM and Delta. He noted that the cost of maintenance on the itemizers is less than the cost of diverting flights on which passengers suffer drug overdoses. Within the last few months, said O’Hagan, KLM has diverted to Spain two flights from Accra to Amsterdam because passengers started vomiting drugs. In both cases, the passenger died. TEITELBAUM
US embassy cables: Ghana ‘lacks political will’ to go after drug barons
Friday, 21 December 2007, 13:02
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ACCRA 002590
LAGOS FOR SAM GAYE. ABUJA FOR MICHAEL MAKALOU. USEU FOR JIM
MCANULTY AND TOM SCARANTINO
EO 12958 DECL: 12/20/2017
TAGS SNAR, PGOV, PREL, KCRM, GH
SUBJECT: GHANA RESPONSE TO EFFORTS TO COMBAT WEST AFRICAN
REF: A) STATE 166219 B) ACCRA 2533 (NOTAL) C) ACCRA 2244 (NOTAL) D) ACCRA 2227 (NOTAL)
ACCRA 00002590 001.2 OF 003
Classified By: CHARGE SUE K. BROWN FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D).
1. (U) Post provides the following information keyed to ref A request.
GOG efforts to addresses narcotics trafficking
2. (C) Ghana is increasingly becoming a significant transshipment point for cocaine from South America and heroin from Southwest Asia. The majority of the narcotics flow is to Europe, although seizures have occurred on flights to the U.S. The GOG does not have a handle on the issue and lacks an overarching strategy to deal with the problem. Despite the unveiling of the Georgina Wood Report last year, the GOG has largely failed to implement its recommendations. (NOTE: The Wood Commission was convened after several narcotics scandals and its report listed numerous recommendations for the GOG to address the narcotics scourge (ref B). END NOTE.)
3. (C) The GOG does not provide the resources necessary to address the problem and, at times, does not appear to have the political will to go after the major drug barons. However the GOG has taken some steps toward educating the public about the perils of narcotics. For example, the Narcotics Control Board (NACOB), the lead agency in Ghana on counternarcotics efforts, has instituted awareness programs in schools, airports and other public places. The GOG, together with the UK, also recently launched Operation Hibiscus, which aims at deterring people from becoming drug couriers. The GOG was also helpful in the recent arrest and subsequent expulsion to the U.S. of two Afghan nationals for heroin trafficking (ref C).
Bilateral and International Donors Assistance
4. (C) Outside of U.S. assistance, the UK has the strongest counternarcotics assistance program in Ghana. UK assistance is largely channeled through the Operation Westbridge program, which seeks to interdict narcotics transiting Kotoka International Airport. The program has been successful; however, UK contacts have pointed out that seizures in Accra drop to almost zero when the Westbridge team, who serves on short term TDYs, is back in London. In an attempt to address this problem, the UK has now structured its staffing so that at least one Westbridge official will be in Accra at all times. While the program was initially scheduled to last two years, UK contacts tell us that it will be extended at least to 2009. The UK is also assisting the GOG with a public awareness campaign aimed at deterring couriers. The French, Dutch, and Spanish embassies have law enforcement officers who monitor narcotics efforts, but they have done little to date in terms of assistance. The German Embassy sent NACOB,s operations chief to Germany for a long-term training session to be completed in early 2008.
Law Enforcement Operations
5. (C) The Narcotics Control Board (NACOB) is the lead agency on counternarcotics efforts. However, it has been listless over the past year as it has struggled to regain its footing after a series of scandals. NACOB’s current director has no law enforcement experience but has a background in pharmaceutical regulation. He has confided that he is ready to move on after only six months on the job and seems to
ACCRA 00002590 002.2 OF 003
focus more on prevention than investigations. The Ghana Police has an organized crime unit, which among other things, addresses narcotics trafficking. Ghanaian law enforcement organizations have demonstrated their efficacy on a few occasions. If given the blessing of the GOG, they typically perform well in arresting and apprehending traffickers.
6. (C) The GOG seems to focus more on small time dealers and couriers and it does not typically carry out long term investigations that result in the arrest of major drug traffickers. For example, GOG contacts in both the police Service and the President,s office have said they know the identities of the major barons, but they have not said why they have not chosen to arrest them. A Police Service contact told us the GOG does not have the political will to go after the barons. This official and other others close to the President have also told us that they cannot trust anyone when it comes to narcotics. Corruption is endemic in Ghana and pervades all aspects of society. Although difficult to measure, corruption almost certainly impacts the law enforcement organizations charged with counternarcotics efforts. Post knows of no high level GOG officials actively involved in the narcotics trade.
Specific Law Enforcement Efforts
7. (C) Some law enforcement officers are specifically dedicated to counternarcotics. NACOB is the lead agency on narcotics, however, as stated above, scandals over the past two years have severely hindered its ability to perform its charge effectively. NACOB has also been without an Operations Chief for nearly a year, although one was finally named in June and he was immediately sent to Germany for several months of training. As a result of the scandals at NACOB, the U.S. does not cooperate actively with NACOB on individual cases. However, the USG has trained NACOB officials in the past through INL funded DEA classes. NACOB is poorly resourced and, according to Ghanaian law, must rely on the Ghana Police to make arrests. For its part, the Ghana Police has an Organized Crime Unit which focuses on narcotics. The head of this unit is a close contact of the Embassy and has benefited from numerous trainings offered by the USG. This unit showed its competency during the recent arrest of two Afghans in a DEA lead operation. The Afghans were subsequently expelled from Ghana and placed in U.S. custody. They are now awaiting trial in the U.S.
Legal Framework for Counternarcotics Efforts
8. (C) The legal framework in Ghana is satisfactory, however implementation of the laws is lacking. Most recently, Parliament passed the long awaited anti-money laundering bill, but President Kufuor has yet to sign it into law. Ghana does not have an asset forfeiture law, despite the fact that many GOG officials have pleaded for one to be passed. Ghana does have anti-corruption laws, however as with many laws, implementation is difficult and spotty. Another interesting facet of Ghanaian law is that the Ghanaian legal system does not have a plea bargain system. Small time couriers who are arrested therefore have no incentive to cooperate with law enforcement to lower their sentences.
Extent of Overall Interdiction Capacity at Ports
9. (C) Ghana largely has little control over what flows through Kotoka International Airport. The interdiction capacity the GOG has at Kotoka International Airport islargely carried out by the UK through its Operation Westbridge, which screens passengers and cargo. Westbridge officials have noted that seizures drop off in Accra and spike in London when UK officials are not present at Kotoka. These same officials complain that NACOB rotates the officers too quickly, preventing them from developing the expertise necessary to identify couriers and spot concealed narcotics. UK officials have also suggested that some NACOB officers at the airport have assisted couriers through the airport, although they are unable to prove their allegations. See ref C for a detailed description of Operation Westbridge and its operations at Kotoka International Airport.
10. (C) Despite some progress on screening passengers and cargo exiting Ghana, little to no progress has been made to screen passengers and cargo entering Ghana via air. Ghana,s long seacoast is largely unpatrolled and is easily exploited. The Ghana Navy does not have the capacity to patrol the coastline effectively and has asked for assistance in this realm. Furthermore, the GOG lacks proper evidence lockers to account for and protect evidence. In 2005 for example, cocaine went missing from NACOB,s &evidence room,8 kicking off a firestorm of controversy. BROWN