Guinea-Bissau's Ex-Navy Chief Pleads Guilty In U.S. Drug Case
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[June 04, 2014]
By Nate Raymond
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Guinea-Bissau's
former navy chief, captured in a high-profile drug sting on the West
African coast, has secretly pleaded guilty ahead of a trial on charges
he conspired to import narcotics into the United States, court sources
said on Tuesday.
The trial of Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto, 64, had been scheduled
to begin on Monday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. But Na
Tchuto, who U.S. authorities say is a kingpin of West Africa's
illicit drug trade, pleaded guilty at a May 13 proceeding, the
transcript of which was immediately sealed, the court sources said.
It could not be learned why the hearing was sealed.
Nor could it be determined what charges Na Tchuto pleaded guilty to
or the terms of any deal he received. The official court record does
not indicate that a plea or hearing took place.
Guilty pleas are sometimes sealed when defendants agree to cooperate
Sabrina Shroff, Na Tchuto's attorney, and representatives for U.S.
Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan and the Drug Enforcement
Administration declined to comment on Tuesday when contacted by
phone and email.
The secret plea came more than a year after the arrest of Na Tchuto
in April 2013. He was seized on a luxury yacht off the coast of
Guinea-Bissau following a monthslong DEA undercover operation.
Before his plea, Na Tchuto faced life in prison if convicted on a
previously announced charge of conspiring to distribute 5 kg (11
pounds) or more of cocaine, knowing or intending that the cocaine
would be imported into the United States.
Poverty-stricken Guinea-Bissau is viewed by the United Nations as a
major waypoint for Latin American cocaine headed for Europe. U.S.
and European authorities have long suspected the country's military
is involved in the drug trade.
According to U.S. prosecutors, Na Tchuto and his two co-defendants
met with confidential DEA informants who posed as representatives of
Latin American drug traffickers.
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In the meetings, the defendants were recorded discussing shipments
of cocaine to Guinea-Bissau, prosecutors said.
The DEA sting also targeted Guinea-Bissau's army chief, Antonio
Indjai, who led a coup in 2012 that derailed elections in the former
Portuguese colony. But Indjai, who has denied running drugs, avoided
arrest by refusing to go offshore. In late April, two of Na Tchuto's
former aides, Tchamy Yala and Papis Djeme, pleaded guilty to
narcotics importation conspiracy charges.
During his plea, Djeme said that from October 2012 to April 2013 he
agreed to help Na Tchuto with a deal to import cocaine into
Guinea-Bissau, a portion of which would then be sent to the United
States, according to a transcript.
(Additional reporting by Richard Valdmanis in Boston and Joseph Ax
in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Jonathan Oatis)
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