Some of the substances suspected to be high-value cocaine intercepted at the Kpoglu Border Post in the Ketu South Municipality in the Volta Region last Friday have gone missing.
The weight of what is missing is said to be 100.10 grams, according to the Narcotics Control Commission.
The commission has told Graphic Online that it went missing between Friday and Sunday whilst the seized substances and cash were in the custody of the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) at the Aflao Border post before it was transported to the headquarters of the Customs Division in Accra.
The suspected narcotics and $200,000 cash, which was in $100 and $50 bills, were busted on Friday, June 5, 2020 during a joint search on a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado vehicle with a Nigerian registration number, LSR 815 FV.
The vehicle was crossing into Ghana from Togo.
It was busted through a collaboration between the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) and other security agencies including the Narcotics Control Board (NACOB).
The items were concealed in a false fuel compartment of the Nigerian registered Toyota Land Cruiser Prado.
When the substances were detected missing
According to the Narcotics Control Commission, some of the substances were allegedly detected missing on Sunday, June 7, 2020, when the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) invited all agencies at the border post to verify the exhibits the Narcotics officers left in the custody of Customs on Friday.
The inspection was to be done before the substances were escorted to the headquarters of the GRA in Accra.
The Acting Director-General of the Narcotics Control Commission, Mr Francis Kofi Torkornoo, told Graphic Online’s Mary Mensah that even though, the Narcotics officers had protested that the substances per Narcotics Control Commission Act were to be left in the custody of narcotics officers whilst investigations were still ongoing, the Customs officers ignored them and insisted they will keep them in their custody and transport it to their headquarters in Accra.
“The verification exercise revealed that, parcel (h), a 100.10g of whitish substance wrapped in transparent polythene, suspected to be cocaine, was missing,” Mr Torkonoo told Graphic Online’s Mary Mensah when he recounted the seizure of the suspected narcotics.
He insisted that the commission was the lead agency on narcotic drugs in the country as the Narcotics Control Commission Act, 2020, which was assented to by the President on May 11, 2020.
This, he said gives the commission the independence in the performance of its functions over offences related to narcotic drugs, plants cultivated for narcotic purposes and for related matters.
Section 72 of the Act also talks about seizure of currency, and that NACOB has the “backing of the law to ask Customs to transfer the vehicle and all its contents to us for investigations to start in earnest, but since the seizure of the whitish substances suspected to be narcotics at the Kpoglu border on Friday June 5, 2020, we are yet to receive all the exhibits from the scene,” Mr Torkonoo said.
Graphic Online understands that it was the Narcotics officer on the ground at Kpoglu Border Post who acted on intelligence and vigilance to personally bust the suspect, Agbatch Sylvester, after he insisted that a second false fuel tank be scanned to ascertain its contents.
After the bust the Narcotics officers Graphic Online understands protested the decision by the Customs officers to send the items together with the vehicle to Customs Division instead of sending it to the office of NACOB as required in section 63 (1) (4) and section 72 (1) of the Narcotics Control Commission Act, 2020 (Act 1019) which requires that, the vehicle and the entire content of the items retrieved from it is transferred to NACOB.
The Narcotics officers reportedly made it clear to all agencies present that, NACOB would not be part of the team escorting the vehicle to the headquarters of Customs in Accra, if the vehicle and its entire content including the items found in the hidden compartment were not being handed over directly to NACOB for investigations to commence immediately.
According to NACOB, Customs failed to handover the exhibits to NACOB for further investigations into the case.
Acting Director-General’s account
The Acting Director-General of Narcotics told Graphic Online’s Mary Mensah that the Toyota Landcruiser Prado with Nigerian registration number LSR 815 FV arrived at the Kpoglu Border post at 10 am, loaded with goods, which the driver declared as assorted goods.
He said as part of arrival formalities, officers of the commission, customs, the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI), the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) and the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) conducted a joint examination of the vehicle.
Mr Torkornoo said the joint examination revealed that the items included spare parts, garments, drinks, gallons of flavours, foot wears and a hand bag and wanted to release the vehicle.
“However, the NACOB officer, based on intelligence available to him on the vehicle and the driver as well as his critical examination, made an official request to have the vehicle scanned at the Gateway Services Limited (GSL),” he said.
He added that on two occasions, the scan result was reported as normal, but the officer insisted that further physical examination be conducted on the vehicle.
Mr Torkornoo said the vehicle was, therefore, returned to the examination bay and recalled other agencies to witness the examination.
He said the assistance of a mechanic was sought to remove the false tank and in the process the driver jumped into the vehicle and sped off, forcing the NACOB officer to jump onto his motorbike to chase the vehicle.
“Having given Sylvester a hot chase for about 45 minutes, the NACOB officer, at the peril of his life, bravely crashed his motorbike into the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, compelling the driver to halt the vehicle,” Mr Torkornoo recounted.
Sending danger, he added, the suspect took to his heels and abandoned the vehicle.
This, he said attracted people to the scene but the NACOB officer stayed put by the vehicle and called his commander at the Aflao Border Post for reinforcement and before the team would arrive, three officers of Customs at Kpoglu Border came to the scene, the vehicle was transported to that post, and later taken to Aflao for further examination.
The Acting Director General said at about 3pm and as has been the practice, all the agencies, this time including the police, immigration, defence and military intelligence and national security, converged to examine the false fuel tank, which contained the substances.
False fuel tank
With the assistance of the mechanic, the fuel tank of the vehicle was carefully removed and examined where the false compartment was detected and the items found in them.
The Customs officers reportedly told the joint examination team that NACOB could not take possession of the items for investigations to commence until they had informed the Commissioner of Customs for further action.
Subsequently, the substances together with the US$200,000 cash was packaged in the presence of the agencies and together with the assorted goods, left in the custody of Customs.
On Sunday, June 7, 2020, at about 7am, all the agencies were invited by Customs to verify the exhibits in their custody before they escorted them to Customs headquarters in Accra and it was during that time that it was revealed that party (h), a 100.10g parcel of whitish substance wrapped in transparent polythene, suspected to be cocaine was missing.
NACOB, reportedly protested the move to have the vehicle and the exhibits dispatched to the Customs headquarters in Accra and made it clear that NACOB would not be part of the team escorting the vehicle if it was not handed over directly to NACOB.
The items were later escorted to Accra by the Customs and Immigration officers.
Bring the rest
Mr Torkornoo said although the Narcotics Control Commission Act, 2020 (Act 1019) required that the vehicle and all the items retrieved should be transferred to NACOB, “as of date, customs has failed to handover the exhibits to NACOB for further investigations.”
He said last Monday (June 8), an escort team of customs and immigration officers transported the vehicle and the seized items to the customs headquarters and also held a press conference on the seizure.
The same day, some customs and immigration officials went to hand over a box, reportedly containing the narcotic exhibits, but NACOB declined to receive them on grounds that all contents and the vehicle were to be returned, according to the NACOB law, he explained.
Not first time
Mr Torkornoo expressed grave concern about the handling of the seized substances by Customs, which he said, had delayed his outfit from launching full investigations into the issue.
He said it was not the first time customs had delayed in sending exhibits to NACOB to start investigations of substances seized at the same border and in all instances it was the vigilance of the NACOB official that led to the seizure of the drugs.
“NACOB is saying that this posture or position of customs to hold on to exhibits suspected to be narcotics and handing over to NACOB later is very worrying, frustrating and disturbing, adding that NACOB had exhibited its readiness to collaborate with other relevant agencies in its work.
The NACOB boss also described as most unfortunate, the statement made by the Commissioner of the Customs Division of the GRA, Colonel Kwadwo Damoah (retd) that although the substances were yet to be verified “I can say they are of the high-value narcotic category”.
Mr Torkornoo indicated that no test had been conducted on the seized whitish substances from the Kpoglu border post to confirm the type of drug, stressing that nobody could determine narcotics by merely looking at it.