By Omar Bah
Investigators into last January’s seizure of three tonnes of cocaine have revealed that “massive progress” has been made in the hunt for the prime suspect, Banta Keita.
The 118 bags of cocaine were discovered during a search of a container shipped from the port of Guayaquil in Ecuador and through Algeciras in Spain. The government has since issued an international arrest warrant for Mr Keita. Since the government declared Keita wanted, much has not been heard on the hunt for his person.
But speaking to The Standard on the matter yesterday, the director of intelligence, investigation and international cooperation of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Lamin Gassama, explained: “A lot of progress has been made – but even if there is lead to his whereabouts, we cannot disclose it to the media. If we do, it is going to jeopardise the investigation. If I tell you he is in Senegal, he might run to Mauritania but definitely we are hopeful that we will get something concrete very soon.”
Gassama said searching for fugitives is quite complex.
“You need to do a lot of background work. Sometimes if you trace them in a particular country you will need to look at their MLA and extradition procedure because some countries have very interesting laws. There are countries that serve as sanctuaries for these people and sometimes you can even locate them but getting there is another problem because of corruption. However, we are doing a lot of work towards that and we have a very credible international law-enforcement institution supporting us,” he said.
But the GMC party leader Mai Fatty said “the inability of the country to arrest and prosecute big drug barons like Banta Keita is worrying”.
He contended: “In fact, it appears to be dying at all levels. Since the state issued a statement long ago, the matter seemed to have died down. This case cannot die and will not die. It is tied to the international integrity of our country, and a test on our national commitment as a partner in the global fight against drugs and international drug cartels. So far, the conduct of The Gambia has been dismissal, and has been shocking to our international partners.”
He said the perception that Mr Keita and his accomplices may be enjoying some type of protection must be dismantled. “We need to do more, and most importantly we need to be more transparent in this and similar cases. Banta Keita’s case is negatively impacting our sovereignty and integrity and will hurt our international standing in the long haul. We must do more in ensuring that this case is solved soon and in a much more transparent manner. Then, the perception out there that Banta has privileged accomplices within the establishment would be neutralised. The contrary may cement the pejorative perception regarding the seeming reluctance to proceed, thereby injuring our global standing as a serious international partner in combating narcotics trade,” he said.