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Guinea-Bissau ex-navy chief held in New York


The former navy chief of Guinea-Bissau was in custody in New York and due to go before a judge Friday after being arrested on international cocaine trafficking allegations, officials said.

A spokesman for the Manhattan federal prosecutor's office told AFP that Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto was in custody in the city, where he was brought after a high seas arrest. "His arraignment will be today," the spokesman said.

The indictment against Na Tchuto -- better known as Bubo in his deeply impoverished homeland -- and two other defendants, Papis Djeme and Tchamy Yala, says they were middlemen in a huge drug smuggling operation originating in Latin America.

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."

Prosecutors confirmed that Bubo was arrested following a sting operation in which he believed he was dealing with a cocaine broker and a cocaine supplier from South America. Both were actually working for the US anti-narcotics body, the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA.

State television in the Atlantic island nation of Cape Verde, which is off the coast of West Africa, reported earlier that Bubo was snatched while at sea in an operation by US and Cape Verdian agents.

The United States placed Bubo on a list of suspected drug barons in 2010, imposing a US travel ban and asset freeze.

Allegedly, the former admiral exploited instability in coup-plagued Guinea-Bissau to turn the tiny country into a major smuggling hub, with cocaine being shipped both to the United States and into Europe.

The government in Bissau said it was aware of the arrest and vowed to ensure Bubo was properly defended in the United States.

"The government knows that rear admiral Bubo Na Tchuto is under an international arrest warrant. We do not have enough details about the conditions of his detention," Communications Minister Fernando Vaz said.

"When the US government provides details, naturally the government will adopt a position which will be to protect its citizens wherever they may be.

"When an American citizen is arrested anywhere in the world, the United States does not remain idle. It's the same for the Guinea-Bissau government which will defend its citizens in trouble elsewhere."

Bubo was accused of being the leader of a coup attempt in December 2011. He was arrested and later released with 18 others in June last year on orders of the country's current army chief.

Guinea-Bissau, a country of just 1.5 million people, has suffered chronic instability since independence from Portugal in 1974 due to conflict between the army and state.

Political instability and mismanagement have undermined the legal economy, which is mostly based on primary crops and subsistence agriculture.

Guinea-Bissau suffered its latest military-backed coup a year ago, and the current transitional government does not have full international recognition.

The United Nations Security Council last year said that drug trafficking in the troubled state had grown since the junta seized control in April.