Sunday April 21 2013

Guinea-Bissau coup leader faces drug charges in US


The United States has charged Guinea-Bissau 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 Colombia’s 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 on Thursday 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 US. 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.

“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 US, and procure surface-to-air missiles and other military-grade hardware to be used against US troops.”

The charges result from operations that began in August and culminated in 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.

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