Guinea-Bissau army chief faces US drugs charges

In a widening plot involving the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau, the United States Thursday charged its coup leader with drug trafficking and seeking to sell arms to Colombian rebels.

Former army chief Antonio Indjai, the nation's top military leader, was accused of four counts of conspiring to sell surface-to-air missiles to FARC rebels to shoot down US patrol helicopters and of seeking to import huge amounts of cocaine into the United States.

The charges were unveiled by Manhattan prosecutors less than two weeks after similar trafficking accusations were brought against Guinea-Bissau's former navy chief and four others arrested for an alleged trans-Atlantic plot.

Two other co-conspirators have been caught in Colombia and are awaiting extradition to the United States.

It was not immediately clear whether Indjai, now the eighth person from Guinea-Bissau fingered by the Manhattan attorney, remained at large or whether he was in US detention.

But the new slew of charges helped shed light on an impoverished country, which international observers say has long been a narco-state.

"From his position atop the Guinea-Bissau military, Antonio Indjai conspired to use his power and authority to be a middleman and his country to be a way-station for people he believed to be terrorists and narco-traffickers," Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.

His aim was to aid Colombia's FARC rebels to "store, and ultimately transport narcotics to the United States, and procure surface-to-air missiles and other military-grade hardware to be used against United States troops."

"As with so many allegedly corrupt officials, he sold himself and use of his country for a price," Bharara added.

The charges result from undercover sting operations that began in August and culminated in dramatic arrests of some of the accused by US agents on a boat in international waters off West Africa earlier in April.

Indjai, a former army chief of staff, led a coup in April 2012 that ousted the regime of former premier Carlos Gomes Junior.

He agreed in May last year to hand power to a civilian transitional regime headed by President Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo, who had been due to hold elections within 12 months. But that plan has now been postponed.

Indjai's "sprawling drug and terror regime threatened the national security not only of his own country, but of countries across the globe," added DEA administrator Michele Leonhart in a statement.

Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto, a former chief of the navy, was arrested earlier in April by US federal agents in international waters off West Africa with several accomplices as he was allegedly about to receive a cocaine shipment.

The officer, described as a "drug kingpin" by the United States for several years, was transferred to New York where he will stand trial.

Na Tchuto -- better known as Bubo -- and two other defendants, Papis Djeme and Tchamy Yala, appeared in a New York court on April 5.

They were ordered detained without bail for plotting to aid cocaine shipments from Latin America reach markets in the United States and Europe.

Two others who also appeared before the judge were Manuel Mamadi Mane and Saliu Sisse -- both of whom have now been named as Indjai's co-conspirators.

Two other co-plotters, Rafael Antonio Garavito-Garcia and Gustavo Perez-Garcia, are awaiting extradition from Colombia to the United States to face charges.

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.