News Release
June 1, 2010
Contact: Dawn Dearden
Number: 202-307-7977

U.S., Liberia Join Forces In Operation Relentless

JUN 1 -- (NEW YORK)– DEA Chief of Operations Thomas Harrigan joined Preet Bharara, The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York to announce that five defendants arrived in the Southern District of New York from Liberia on May 30, 2010, to face charges of conspiring to import cocaine into the United States.

(L to R) DEA Chief of Operations Thomas Harrigan, Preet Bharara, and M.Nathaniel Barnes, Liberian Ambassador to the US at press conference to announce Operation Relentless.

(L to R) DEA Chief of Operations Thomas Harrigan, Preet Bharara, and M.Nathaniel Barnes, Liberian Ambassador to the US at press conference to announce Operation Relentless.

The defendants, who were arrested in coordination with Liberian authorities on May 28 and 29, 2010, were transferred by the Government of Liberia to the custody of the United States to face narcotics trafficking charges in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. This marks the first defendant transfer by the Government of Liberia to the United States in connection with narcotics related charges in over 30 years.

"Unprecedented cooperation from the highest levels of government in Liberia helped expose drug smuggling and corruption that led to indictments of African, Colombian, and Russian traffickers. Operation Relentless successfully battered the pipeline of cocaine flowing from South America, through Africa, and into Europe. In this case, ton quantities of FARC cocaine were seized and the operations of several major traffickers were disrupted,"said DEA Acting Administrator Michele M. Leonhart.

The Honorable Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia, stated: "As today's charges show, the Republic of Liberia is officially closed for business to the narcotics trade. We are strongly committed to combating international drug organizations that seek to exploit our country for their own profit. We are proud of our strong partnership with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration and the United States Department of Justice, and we look forward to strengthening and deepening this relationship in the years to come."

According to the Indictments and Complaint unsealed today: During the last decade, drug trafficking organizations based in South America have increasingly used countries along or near the West African coast as trans-shipment hubs for importing massive quantities of cocaine to be later distributed in Europe or elsewhere within Africa. Through a combination of privately owned aircraft and maritime vessels, these organizations, predominantly based in Colombia and Venezuela, have transported hundreds of tons of cocaine, worth billions of dollars, to places such as Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Sierra Leone, Togo, Mali, Ghana, Nigeria, and Liberia. In so doing, representatives of these drug trafficking organizations have often sought to bribe high-level public officials with large cash payments and narcotics in order to ensure the safe passage, storage, and distribution of their cocaine shipments.

Since in or about 2007, the defendants have attempted to bribe high-level officials in the Liberian Government in order to protect shipments of vast quantities of cocaine, and to use Liberia as a trans-shipment point for further distribution of the cocaine in Africa and Europe. In particular, certain of the defendants met with two individuals they knew to be Liberian government officials -- the Director and Deputy Director of the Republic of Liberia National Security Agency ("RLNSA"), both of whom (unbeknownst to the defendants) in fact were working jointly with the DEA in an undercover capacity ("UC-1" and "UC-2", respectively).

The Director of the RLNSA is also the son of the current President of Liberia. In a number of the meetings involving these Liberian officials, the defendants also met with a confidential source working with DEA (the "CS"), who purported to be a business partner and confidante of the Director of the RLNSA. In seeking to ensure the safe passage of their cocaine shipments, the defendants agreed to make payments to the Director and the Deputy Director of the RLNSA in cash and also in the form of cocaine. The CS advised the defendants that a portion of the cocaine paid to the CS would be transported from Liberia to Ghana, from where it would be imported into New York.

All of the defendants are charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine, knowing or intending that the cocaine would be imported into the United States. This offense carries a minimum sentence of ten years in prison and a maximum term of life imprisonment.

The arrests and transfers of the defendants were the result of the close cooperative efforts of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, the Special Operations Division of the DEA, the DEA Lagos Country Office, the DEA Warsaw Country Office, the DEA Bogota Country Office, the DEA Rome Country Office, the U.S. Department of Justice Office of International Affairs, the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Liberia, the Republic of Liberia and its National Security Agency, and the Security Services of Ukraine.