Ghanaian narcotics officials said on Thursday they had busted an international drugs cartel in the port city of Tema, after seizing 674 kilogrammes of cocaine that was in transit to Europe.
"The street value of the drugs, which were about to be shipped to the United Kingdom, has been confirmed to be US $145 million," Edmund Tei, an official at Ghana's Narcotics Control Board, told IRIN.
It is the largest quantity of drugs ever seized in Ghana, and one of the largest ever to be intercepted in West Africa, which has increasingly become a transit point for shipping heroin and cocaine into Europe.
Tei said the drugs, packed in 22 cartons, were concealed in the residence of Kevin Gorman, a 59 year-old American, who was arrested along with three British nationals, two Ghanaians and a German.
Gorman, who together with the two Ghanaians manages the Tuna To-Go Fishing Company at Tema, denied onwership of the drugs, Tei said. The American said the cocaine belonged to a friend and he had no idea how it had been brought into Ghana.
Narcotics officials said they suspected the cocaine had come from South America and had been dropped by plane into Ghana's offshore territorial waters. It had then been picked up by tuna fishing boats which brought the drugs ashore.
The officials said the consignment was due to have been shipped to the UK in containers containing liquid shea nut butter. This is an edible oil produced from the fruit of the shea nut tree in northern Ghana, that is used for both cosmetics and cooking.
Narcotics officials said there had been an increase in the smuggling of cocaine and heroin through Ghana into Europe in recent years, mainly through the port of Tema and Accra international airport. However they added that it was difficult to quantify the amount of drugs passing through the country.
"We are working out with the Navy and other security agencies to ensure that we closely monitor our borders in order to stem the activities of these drug dealers and smugglers," Tei told IRIN.
For years the government has had problems controlling Ghana's 539-km Atlantic coastline as well as the 2,093 kilometer land border with Cote d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Togo.
In 2002 higher cocoa prices in Cote d'Ivoire, led to an estimated 60,000 tonnes of Ghanaian cocoa being smuggled acrossed the border. But last year, with Ghanaian producer prices nearly 60 percent higher than in Cote d'Ivoire, cocoa beans began flowing by the truckload in the opposite direction.
Petrol smuggling was also a chronic problem until the Ghanaian government doubled petrol prices a year ago to bring domestic prices more in line with those of neighbouring countries.
Colonel Isaac Akuoko, the Executive Secretary of the Narcotics Control Board, told reporters that his team started its investigations into the operations of the cocaine smuggling group that has just been busted about two years ago. British Officials had been involved in the investigations for the last six months, he added.
"We have done our part. We will not relent to free this country of narcotic drugs, as well as break the network of drug barons who try to use Ghana as a warehouse and a transit point for the shipment of narcotic drugs," Akuoko said.
Ghana has stiff laws to counter drug trafficking of narcotics. Those convicted face long prison terms and the confiscation of their property.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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