By Mafugi Ceesay & Olimatou Coker
Gambians were alarmed, shocked and outraged Friday when drug law officials seized a massive quantity of cocaine hidden in a container sent to one Sheriff Njie.
The container is among four others containing bags of salt said to belong to one Banta Keita, who was declared wanted after the arrest of Sheriff Njie.
The drugs, weighing about 3 tons, have a street value of D4.5 billion. They were discovered in 118 bags in a container labeled SUDU7531754 which is part of a consignment of four containers originating from Ecuador. The containers are said to be containing 1000 bags of industrial salt each.
According to NDLEA spokesman Ousman Saidybah, three of the containers (SUDU 753 1754, TLLU 2135 228 & TCLU 250 5880) originated from Ecuador) and transported by Maersk Line Shipping company, and was transshipped at the port of Algeciras in Spain before proceeding to Banjul, arriving here 01 January 2021.
Mr Saidybah said the fourth container (TGCU 212 7190) also originated from Ecuador transported by MSC, and was transshipped at Antwerp, Belgium, then Las Palmas, Spain and finally arriving at the Banjul port on 27 December 2020.
He pointed out that all the four containers were shipped by ECU WORLDWIDE ECUADOR SA and consigned to BOLLORE TRANSPORT and LOGISTICS as their local partner. However, 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.
He revealed that on Monday 4 January 2020, physical search was conducted on container number TGCU 212 7190 but was found to be containing only salt. The search continued on Thursday, 7 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 initial findings suggested that the containers belong to one BANTA 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.
Sheriff Njie was immediately taken in custody while a hunt for Banta Keita was launched.
“This seizure is yet another confirmation that The Gambia like other West African states continue to be 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,” Mr Saidybah said.
Meanwhile the discovery has attracted comments from Gambians from all walks of life, including political parties which have called for a thorough investigation into the matter.
The United Democratic Party issued the following statement:
“The United Democratic Party receives the news of a major drug burst by the agents of NDEA at the Gambia Ports Authority with shock and alarm because of the reputational damage this will cause to the nation’s international image and brand.
UDP has learned that it is the largest drug seizure in our nation’s history, reportedly over 2 tonnes of cocaine with a street value of over US$88 million.
Although the consignee of the shipment has been named by journalists, this has not been officially confirmed by the Gambia Police Force.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the Gambian Port is used for smuggling drugs by international criminal cartels.
This is extremely concerning to the UDP because it makes the Gambia vulnerable to infiltration by international organised crime groups, seeing how weak the Gambia’s security infrastructure is at the ports of entry, to target the Gambia as a weak link in the global efforts to combat transboundary criminal enterprises that rely on their vast criminal networks that are active in money laundering and terrorists financing.
Therefore the UDP urgently calls on the Gambia Government to conduct a swift and thorough investigation into this matter and to urgently review the security protocols at Gambia Ports Authority in respect of all shipments bound for Banjul.”