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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Assembly grills minister on fate of seized cocaine, suspect Banta Keita

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By Tabora Bojang

The Minister of Interior Yankuba Sonko has informed lawmakers that internal investigations into mass seizure of nearly three tons of cocaine at the Banjul ports last year have been completed.

The 118 bags of cocaine worth over D4 billion allegedly belonging to one Banta Keita were discovered during a search on a container shipped from Ecuador through Spain to The Gambia.

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 Keita, 36, who also holds a French nationality, was since declared wanted following an issuance of an international arrest warrant by The Gambia government.

One Sheriff Njie has since been jointly charged with Keita with conspiracy to commit felony, aggravated drug trafficking and dealing in prohibited drugs for the purposes of trafficking.

However, responding to queries by NAMs on the status of investigations relating to the seized drugs, Minister Sonko disclosed that “all the necessary things that the government should do within its perimeters have almost been completed.”

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“Investigation is completed and the file is currently with the Attorney General’s Chambers and hopefully in the course of this week or next, we will receive the file from them and proceed with what we have in The Gambia,” he stated.

Minister Sonko said despite these developments, international investigations are still ongoing between the Gambia, Ecuador and Spain while the UK, France and Senegal have all expressed interest in knowing the criminal links.

“This is a typical trans-national crime with international dimension and a number of countries concerned are also collaborating with our investigators in evidence gathering. But as far as the main suspect in the case is still at large, that is the difficulty we are facing now.” 

Minister Sonko added that the government is not only limiting the investigations to arraigning all persons suspected in the matter but a comprehensive follow-up to track the chain from where it originated.

“This is a criminal link, linking all the way to Ecuador and a lot of personalities are involved. So that chain has to be followed to track back where it originated” he added.

Asked about the impact of the suspected drugs on the country’s youthful population, if tampered by unscrupulous elements, Sonko assured lawmakers that chances of anybody tampering with the drug are zero.

“The drugs are properly secured in a safe location with 24 hours armed guard,”

The topic however generated tense argument between pro-government NAM Fatoumatta Jawara who is also the national female youth leader of the NPP, and member for Central Baddibu NAM, Sulayman Saho of the UDP.

It came when Jawara asked the minister to explain the level of investigation into the seizure of suspected cannabis found in a yellow pickup truck belonging to the UDP.

But NAM Saho, who is also the national youth president of the UDP, quickly intervened and urged the Speaker to overrule Jawara’s question since it was “out of order.”

“Madam Speaker, I am in order; we are on investigations and this is also a drug matter, so I want to know how far,” Jawara charged.

However, Speaker Mariam Jack Denton told the Tallinding NAM that the question asked to the minister talks about the drug seizure at the ports and not otherwise.

“All I am trying to do is to draw your attention to the original question and the need for a supplementary question, but in the absence of reference to any seizure outside this specifically, then no new question should have been brought,” she explained.

However, unsatisfied NAM Jawara told the Speaker that she has the choice to exercise her discretion to either overrule or ask the minister to respond to her question, since it is “genuine and relevant” to the topic.

“If you want me to exercise my discretion, I can exercise it and I will do it judiciously and I will disallow the question if that is what you want,” the Speaker stated and overruled the question.

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