Ghana ex-airport official Adelaquaye faces US drug charges
The ex-security chief at Ghana’s international airport has been charged in the US with conspiring to smuggle Afghan heroin to New York.
Solomon Adelaquaye was arrested with two Nigerians and a Colombian in May following a joint US-Ghanaian investigation, officials said.
West Africa is a major hub for drugs smuggled from Latin America and Asia to Europe and the US.
The men have not yet commented on the allegations.
“Drug trafficking in West Africa has become a plague,” said US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) official Derek Maltz.
“These [alleged] criminal groups and their facilitators pose a direct threat to the safety and security of innocent Americans,” he added.
US agents disguised themselves as drug dealers, holding meetings with the accused over the past year to buy thousands of dollars worth of Afghan heroin to distribute in Manhattan and the Bronx in New York city, according to the charge sheet.
Mr Adelaquaye was at the time managing director of the privately owned Sohin Security Company, which was in charge of security at the Kotoka International Airport in Ghana’s capital, Accra.
News of the arrests came barely hours after Ghana’s government ordered the airport’s management to sever its dealings with the company, reports the BBC’s Akwasi Sarpong from Accra.
Mr Adelaquaye is not the first high-profile Ghanaian to be arrested on drug-trafficking charges, he says.
In 2005, an MP, Eric Amoateng, was arrested and is currently serving a jail term in the US for drug trafficking.
Mr Adelaquaye has been charged with Colombian Samuel Antonia Pinedo-Rueda and Nigerians Frank Muodum and Celestine Ofor Orjinweke after an investigation of more than a year by Ghanaian and US anti-drug officers, Ghana’s Narcotics Control Board (NCB) said in a statement.
At a meeting on 25 February 2012 at Mr Adelaquaye’s office at the airport in Accra, a US agent, named as CS-3, said he had hidden 1kg (2lb 2oz) of heroin in his laptop, the charge sheet alleges.
Mr Adelaquaye then instructed CS-3 to give the computer to an associate of his and after CS-3 passed through the security checkpoint at the airport, it would be returned to him, the charge sheet alleges.
“Also at that meeting, CS-3 gave Adelaquaye $6,000 (£3,900) cash to guarantee the safe passage of the heroin through the airport,” it adds.
US agents had also given Mr Orjinweke $28,000 cash at a hotel in Accra on 22 February 2012 for supplying the heroin, and had later sent him a further $4,000 from New York, the charge sheet alleges.
It adds that at a separate meeting in Accra in May 2013, another US agent, posing as a Colombian dealer, discussed with Mr Adelaquaye, Mr Muodum and Mr Orjinweke a plan to supply them with 3,000kg of cocaine, valued at $25,000 per kilogram, in exchange for an amount of heroin of similar value.
“Adelaquaye, Muodum, and Orjinweke told CS-2 [the agent] that they could transport the heroin to the United States by airplane in multiple shipments of 25kg each,” the charge sheet alleges.
The Ghanaian and Nigerians were arrested in New York soon thereafter, while Mr Pinedo-Rueda was apprehended in Colombia and is awaiting extradition to the US, the DEA said, in a statement.
In October 2011, The Gambia sentenced eight foreigners to 50 years each in prison for trying to smuggle two tonnes of cocaine from Latin America to Europe.
West Africa has emerged as a busy route for drugs from Latin America to Europe and the US, with cartels taking advantage of the region’s poverty and weak border controls.