Africa

Gambia puts 12 on trial for drugs trafficking

cocaine file photo
Image caption West Africa has become a major transit hub for drugs to Europe

Twelve foreigners arrested in The Gambia last month, and whose capture aided a major drugs bust, have appeared in court.

Their arrests led to the discovery of at least two tons of cocaine with an estimated street value of $1bn (£686m), bound for Europe.

They were apprehended in May and face drugs trafficking charges in relation to 3kg of cocaine.

West Africa has become a major transit point for drugs trafficking.

All the accused, who include Dutch and Venezuelan nationals as well as citizens of West African countries, have pleaded not guilty.

The BBC's Mark Doyle in Banjul says that the early charges against them for the small quantity of cocaine will likely be followed by more serious offences relating to the massive haul announced on Tuesday.

Our correspondent says the suspects appeared in court looking dishevelled, confused and scared - and had no defence lawyer.

The Gambia has not had a drugs case on this scale before, our correspondent adds.

False wall

Gambian investigators started making arrests in mid-May, before calling in British agents to gather forensic evidence.

Agents from the UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) helped discover the highly concentrated cocaine behind a false wall in a warehouse basement an hour's drive from the Gambian capital, Banjul, on Friday.

The cocaine was found in bricks, amounting to more than two tons, in 85 sacks.

Another 60 empty sacks found indicated that "the bunker had been used as a distribution centre", according to Soca.

A British official told AFP news agency that the estimated street value of the cocaine - which was very highly purified - was more than $1bn.

As well as the cocaine, $250,000 (£172,000) cash and a number of loaded firearms were also found.

The West African coast has emerged as a popular transit point for drugs from Latin American countries destined for Europe, with cartels taking advantage of the region's poverty and weak judicial systems.

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