MONROVIA – In the wake of another damaging image for the country regarding the latest report of the arrest of drugs at the Roberts International Airport (RIA), the National Civil Society Council of Liberia (NCSCL) has called on the government to leave no stone unturned in conducting an independent and impartial investigation.
FrontPage Africa Newspaper, one of Liberia’s leading local dailies reported online on late Sunday evening September 10, 2023, and in its hard copy of its Monday edition of September 11 that Samuel Freeman, the Security Manager at RIA was arrested and is currently under investigation for his alleged involvement in an attempt to transport several boxes suspected of containing contraband directly from the tarmac, using an unauthorized gate at the airport.
Located in Unification Town, Margibi County, RIA is the country’s only international airport.
As reported by the local media outlet, the management of RIA confirmed the interception of the boxes by officers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) assigned at the airport.
The paper also reported the boxes were being transported in a minibus and were escorted by Mr. Freeman, who informed the AFL officers that the consignment belonged to President George Weah’s Chief of Protocol, Ms. Nora Finda Bundo; however, Madam Bundo vehemently denied ownership of the boxes when she was contacted by the management of the airport.
Owing to the suspicious nature of the boxes, they were turned over to Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) for investigation.
“Investigations into the attempted smuggling are ongoing, and we anticipate that further details will emerge shortly,” Mr. Danicius Kaihenneh Sengbeh, Communications Manager at the LRA, confirmed to FrontPageAfrica that Customs is in possession of the suspicious boxes.
On the heel of what seems to be another national embarrassment, the CSO Council, which is the apex body of all civil society organizations in the country and lead neutral voice of the society, in a statement issued under the signature of its Chairperson, Madam Loretta Alethea Pope-Kai, urged the government to conduct an unbiased investigation by ensuring that whosoever involved irrespective of status in society is brought to book.
The Council pointed out that this fresh allegation of drugs importation must be taken very seriously, as this is dangerous news for a country heading for one of the most crucial elections in history.
In so doing, the Council is also recommending the hiring of independent investigators to handle the matter into the damaging saga.
“Considering our most recent experience, the National Civil Society Council of Liberia (NCSCL) is calling on the Government of Liberia to hire the service of independent investigators to work along with government’s own intelligence to handle the matter. This is a situation of high magnitude because the frequency of drugs entering our country through our major ports of entries is scaring. This other matter should not be taken lightly because it poses serious threats to our electioneering process, because we cannot discuss elections without talking about peace; hence, the issue of drugs has the propensity to undermine any peaceful process. We are concerned about the electoral process because we are concerned about the peace of this country. Therefore, we are calling for an in-depth investigation into this matter void of partiality and manipulation,” said the statement.
“For too long, we have watched cases of similar magnitude treated with lip-service and lope warmness by the Government at the detriment of ensuring justice. We are calling on the Government of Liberia to make the world see us as serious people who are committed to upholding the rule of law. We want to see this matter reach a logical conclusion and justice would be served regardless of who is involved. This is not the time for this and it should not be treated as business as usual. Just few months ago, the government lost a landmark case involving the importation of US$100 million worth of drugs case. The outcome of this US$100 million worth of drugs case was undesirable in spite of the preponderance of evidence,” the statement furthered.
In a bid to bring more credibility to the legal process, NCSCL is also appealing to the United States Government through its embassy near Monrovia, the European Union and ECOWAS to take keen interest in this matter so that would-be perpetrators would be brought to book to face the full weight of the law.
At the same time, NCSCL has called on the public against politicizing the matter and follow the legal process.
The Council warned everyone involved to refrain from politicizing it since the ultimate desire of all Liberians and the international community is to get to the nitty-gritty of the matter.
“Members of the press, the National Civil Society Council of Liberia is seriously concerned about this latest allegations of drugs entering our country, especially just few months after the arrest of biggest arrest of hugest ever consignment of narcotic substance in our country. At the same time, we also call on the public to refrain from politicizing it since the ultimate desire of all Liberians and the international community is to get the fact in this matter regardless of who is involved,” added the statement.
It could be recalled that in September of last year, the joint security intercepted US$100 million worth of cocaine concealed in a frozen food container. The cartel reportedly infiltrated the Maersk shipping line and had the cocaine packaged with frozen goods. The seizure by the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA) and the Liberia National Police was made possible through a tip-off by the American Embassy in Monrovia.
Four suspects were, namely; Malam Conte, Adulai Djibril Djalo, Makki Admeh Issam, and Oliver A. Zayzay were linked but two of them were arrested on the scene and tried. The court then acquitted them on grounds of insufficient evidence, a ruling many foreign partners, including former U.S. Ambassador to Liberia, Michael McCarthy, expressed serious opposition to.
“While I’m cautious about making judgments about jury decisions, and I acknowledge that I don’t have access to all the case details or defense arguments, I sincerely hope that this doesn’t convey a perception of weakened enforcement against international criminal cartels.”
“From an outsider’s viewpoint, it is disconcerting that convictions could not be secured in Liberia, especially when the evidence appeared overwhelmingly compelling. Additionally, I am apprehensive about what these developments might signify for Liberia’s justice system, which has received substantial support from the United States Government in terms of capacity development over the years.”
Ambassador McCarthy’s remarks come in the aftermath of the Ministry of Justice’s unsuccessful attempt to persuade the Supreme Court to halt Criminal Court ‘C’ from enforcing the jurors’ verdict in favor of defendants Malam Conte, Adulai Djibril Djalo, Makki Admeh Issam, and Oliver A. Zayzay through a writ of prohibition