DEA agent describes Liberia's help in drug probe

AP News
Posted: Apr 05, 2011 10:06 PM
DEA agent describes Liberia's help in drug probe

A Drug Enforcement Administration agent told a jury at the start of a drug trial Tuesday that the son of Liberia's president initiated a probe aimed at shutting down a South American drug organization that wanted to use Liberia as a place of safe passage for drug shipments.

Agent Eric Stouch testified in U.S. District Court in Manhattan that Fumbah Sirleaf contacted the DEA in May 2009 while he was director of the Republic of Liberia National Security Agency. Sirleaf is the son of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Stouch, testifying after opening statements in the trial of four men, told the jury that Fumbah Sirleaf and his deputy director, Tony Souh, posed as corrupt Liberian officials to assist the DEA in its sting operation.

He said Sirleaf and Souh played their roles during a secretly recorded May 17, 2009, meeting with a man described as an organizer of the drug conspiracy and two Colombian associates representing a South American drug trafficking organization. The probe continued until May 2010, when arrests were made.

In an opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher LaVigne told jurors they were going to hear a "case about an international drug ring of enormous proportions."

He said the defendants hoped to distribute hundreds of millions of dollars of cocaine as they conspired to exploit a West African country on the coast as a hub for transporting narcotics around the world, including Europe, Africa and the United States.

"And at the heart of this conspiracy was a plan to bribe and corrupt Liberian government officials," he said.

The prosecutor said the conspirators promised to pay Liberian officials $1 million and 50 kilograms of cocaine.

"What these defendants did not know was that Liberian officials had not put their country up for sale. The Liberians had been pretending to be corrupt," he said.

Defense lawyers for the defendants argued that their clients had no intention of shipping drugs to the United States and were entrapped by the sting operation. Each defense lawyer predicted his client would be found not guilty.

The jury hearing the case included Giants owner John Mara, who was serving as an alternate. The trial was expected to last three weeks.