Guinea-Bissau ex-navy chief held in US on drugs charges

image source, AFP
image captionRear Admiral Na Tchuto has been named by the US as a drugs kingpin

A former chief of the navy in Guinea-Bissau has appeared in a US court on charges linked to cocaine trafficking, officials have said.

Rear Adm Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto was flown to New York after he was detained while travelling on a yacht in the east Atlantic.

Adm Na Tchuto is described by the US as a kingpin in Guinea-Bissau's huge drugs trade.

The small West African state is a staging post for drug-smuggling gangs.

Cocaine is smuggled to Guinea-Bissau from Latin America before finding its way to Europe as well as the US.


The indictment against Adm Na Tchuto and two other defendants states they were middlemen in a huge drug-smuggling operation originating in Latin America, AFP news agency reports.

It alleges they "worked together to receive ton-quantities of cocaine, transported by vessel from South America to Guinea-Bissau, and then to store the cocaine in Guinea-Bissau before its shipment to other locations, including the United States".

Public television in the Cape Verde Islands reported that Adm Na Tchuto and four other Guinea-Bissau nationals were taken into custody aboard a yacht in international waters in the eastern Atlantic Ocean.

They were arrested by US federal drug agents, a law enforcement official told Associated Press. The boat they were travelling on was reportedly displaying a Panama flag.

image captionSmall, often uninhabited, islands off West Africa are often used as smuggling points

The five were then taken to nearby Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony about 1,000km (620 miles) west of Guinea-Bissau, the TV station reported.

They were then flown on to the United States. They appeared briefly at the US district court in Manhattan on Friday and all five were ordered to be held in custody without bail, AP reported.

Guinea-Bissau government spokesman Fernando Vaz told AP that he hoped that Adm Na Tchuto would receive fair legal treatment and representation in the US.

A booming cocaine trade has turned Guinea-Bissau - a country also plagued by coups - into what correspondents say is a narco-state with key members of the military complicit in the trade, including several army and navy chiefs who are now on a US blacklist.

Experts say that the military has been widely corrupted by violent and well-financed drug gangs - and because Guinea-Bissau is a small country, its institutions are weak.

Furthermore it has a coastline that is filled with inlets, mangroves and places to hide so it is geographically well-positioned for drugs smugglers.

Adm Na Tchuto - whose assets were frozen by Washington in 2010 - was arrested after a failed coup in Guinea-Bissau in December 2011, but released in June.

The current transitional government, which took over after the military-backed coup in April 2012, does not have full international recognition.

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