The Ministry of Justice has returned US$113,000 confiscated from one of the four acquitted defendants in the US$100 million cocaine case.
The money that was seized from Malam Conte should have been US$200K, but the Ministry only presented US$113,000 as the amount seized from Conte after his arrest during the drug bust.
Conte, along with co-defendants, Makki Issam, Adulai Djalo, and Oliver A. Zayzay, left the country after being found not guilty by jurors at Criminal Court ‘C’ of charges including unlicensed importation of controlled drugs.
They were accused of smuggling 520 kilos of cocaine, worth an estimated US$100 million, which was concealed in a container shipped from Brazil.
The Ministry of Justice, which termed the no-guilty verdict as shameful, had initially refused to return the US$113,000 confiscated during the investigation, citing Conte’s absence.
But the Supreme Court dismissed the argument and ordered the return of the money, which had been given to Conte’s lawyers for onward transmission. As a result of the Court ruling, the Ministry was forced to return the money but did so via check instead of cash, which angered Judge Blamo Dixon of Criminal Court C.
“We are presenting a check for US$133,000.40 in compliance with Your Honor’s order,” said Cllr. Bobby Livingstone, one of the prosecutors in the case.
Dixon was not pleased and demanded cash. However, after some discussion, he ultimately accepted the check, which was encashed by his clerk, the sheriff, and the prosecutors. The money, sources say, was given to the head of Conte’s legal team, Cllr. James Kumeh.
The US$113,000 came out of the 520-kilogram haul of cocaine seized by the government in 2022 among containers that TRH Trading had imported from Brazil. The burst was identified as one of the largest in the country’s history.
According to TRH Trading, which is an affiliate of AJA Group Holdings, the accused allegedly offered to pay US$200,000 for a single container of frozen foods, which 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.
The claims were repeated in court and formed part of its core argument during the case.
However, the jurors found that there was a lack of conclusive evidence to link Conte and his co-accused to the crime as alleged by the state and found them none guilty while ordering the return of the seized money.
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 circumcase.ces of the case.