NAIROBI, Kenya — Eight foreigners have each been given 50-year jail terms for smuggling more than 2 ton of cocaine in Gambia, a tiny sliver of a country in West Africa.
Four Venezuelans, two Dutch, a Mexican and a Nigerian were all arrested in June last year after their stash of 2.1 tons of cocaine was discovered in an underground bunker behind a false wall.
A fifth Venezuelan suspect died in custody just days before sentencing of what authorities said were natural causes.
Estimates of the drug haul’s street value vary immensely. Some say it is worth as much as $1 billion although the pure cocaine would have to be cut with a lot of filler substances to realise this value on Europe’s streets.
Others say it is worth closer to $130 million, but whatever the exact value, the drug seizure was one of the largest ever in West Africa.
The jail terms are unusually stiff reflecting the seriousness with which some regional leaders regard the use of their countries as transhipment points for South American cocaine making its way to markets in Europe.
The make-up of the trafficking gang is also instructive. The Venezuelans and the Mexican represent the supply end of the chain, the Dutchman represents the demand end and the Nigerian is the local fixer in West Africa who helps make sure the shipments get from A to B.
As GlobalPost has reported on numerous occasions in the past cocaine trafficked through West Africa can have a worryingly destabilising effect on poor countries with weak institutions, many of which have only recently emerged from civil war.