Liberia: Court Verdict in US$100M Cocaine Case “Appalling,” Weah Administration Says

 Makki Ahmed Issam, Adulai Djalo, Oliver Zayzay, and Malam Conte, all in their orange prison suits, were acquitted of all criminal charges last week by Criminal Court C with their lawyers.


The administration of President George Weah has condemned “Judge Blamo Dixon’s” acquittal of four alleged high-profile drug smugglers as appalling.

Dixon’s who read the jury verdict found the alleged smugglers not guilty of all criminal charges. According to the government, the verdict was shameful and undermined the country’s effort to clamp down on the illegal transit of illicit drugs.

The acquittal, the government says, lends credence to the widely held international and local perception that the judiciary is inherently compromised, and ignited the debate as to whether the judicial system should continue with the age-old jury-trial process, which has been susceptible to jury tampering.

“There was US$100 million worth of drugs stacked in a container that landed in Monrovia and the accused were caught red-handed attempting to take ownership of the container holding the illicit drugs by attempting to bribe the businessman housing the container,” the Minister of Justice, Cllr. Frank Musah Dean, said in a release issued on behalf of the Weah administration on Sunday.

“Yet the court, through the empaneled 12-man jury said such brazen evidence did not warrant a guilty verdict. What more can the joint security and the Justice Ministry do to convince the court that the law was broken,” the Minister wondered.

The Ministry’s response, issued on May 20, comes after 11 of the court’s 12 jurors found Makki Ahmed Issam, Adulai Djalo, Oliver Zayzay, and Malam Conte not guilty of all charges, including money laundering, unlicensed possession of controlled drugs, unlicensed importation of controlled drugs, and criminal conspiracy.

According to the jury,  the accused men had no knowledge of the cocaine smuggling operation, as claimed by the government and that the US$200k, which was seized from the men, be returned.

The 520-kilogram haul of the illicit substance was seized by authorities in 2022 among containers that TRH Trading had imported from Brazil. The drugs were estimated to be worth over US$100 million, making it one of the largest drug-related cases in the country’s history. 

According to TRH Trading, which is a subsidiary of AJA Group Holdings, the accused allegedly offered to pay US$200k for a single container of frozen foods, on which the cocaine was smuggled, which at the time cost less than US$30,000.

The accused, the consignee said, later doubled their offer to US$400,000 within less than eight hours, and finally to US$1 million, a situation they claimed raised a red flag, leading them to contact the United States Ambassador, who passed the information to Liberian security officials.

These claims were repeated in court by the government and its key witness, Samuel Nimely, the General Manager of TRH Trading, and formed part of its core argument during the case.

However, the jury found that the case against the men lacked conclusive evidence linking them to the cocaine shipment, dealing a blow to the Weah administration, which had hoped to use a guilty verdict to boost its claims of a serious crackdown on drug abuse in the country.

The acquittal also called into question the investigation conducted by the government security apparatus, which led to the accused being charged with numerous crimes, including controlled drugs, and unlicensed importation of controlled drugs.

If the Court had found the accused guilty, they could have faced a prison sentence of several years up to life imprisonment in accordance with the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act of 2014.

In Liberia, drug trafficking is considered a serious offense, and specific penalties and prison terms vary depending on various factors, such as the type and quantity of drugs involved, the defendant’s criminal history, and the circumstances of the case.

But for  Dean, Weah’s Justice Minister, the jury’s verdict is worrisome and shameful when the evidence is overwhelming in the face of international security collaboration that tracked and brought the perpetrators of this heinous crime before the law.  

The Minister of Justice noted that the ruling has also brought Liberia to international ridicule,  saying if Liberia is to play a role in the international fight against drug trafficking, and other crimes associated, the three branches of the government must take responsibility.

“If the Executive through the Joint Security of the country, working in concert with their international counterparts, is ramping up the strife to apprehend and bring to book illicit drug traffickers and money launderers, our drug laws must compliment such efforts through appropriate legislations, and the courts must be ready to act in conformity with the laws and gravity of the breach of our laws,” Dean said. 

The Minister’s statement appears to corroborate the U.S. State Department’s 2022 Human Rights Report on Liberia, which stated that judges and magistrates were subject to influence and engaged in corruption. 

According to the report, Judges reportedly solicited bribes to try cases, grant bail to detainees, award damages in civil cases, or acquit defendants in criminal cases. 

The report further stated that defense attorneys and prosecutors reportedly directed defendants to pay bribes to secure favorable decisions from judges, prosecutors, and jurors or to have court staff place cases on the docket for trial.  

Some judicial officials and prosecutors appeared subject to pressure, and the outcome of some trials appeared to be predetermined, especially when the accused persons were politically connected or socially prominent.

Dean however noted that what is even more lampooning is the fact that hours after the verdict and the release of the defendants by Dixon, the four men have now absconded. 

He wondered why the men would flee or hide if they truly believed that they had committed no criminal offense. “This is sickening,” he said. 

“The court ordered the return of the two-hundred thousand United States dollars seized by the joint security during the arrest of the four men, so why are they not around to receive their money, if they know they have nothing to run from,” the Minister of Justice said.

Meanwhile, the joint security is now continuing to mount its search for the four men who the court has released.