The Observer reports
“I don’t think we will commence the trial in the absence of the Arabic interpreter. This is strange because we don’t know about the arrangements between him and the ministry,” the source lamented. “But we are still hoping that he could change his mind and answer our calls. “
The trial of four persons charged in connection with the US$100 million cocaine bust in October 2022 likely will not begin today due to the challenges facing Criminal Court “C” in contacting one of the two persons designated as interpreters to assist with the case.
Up until February 24, there was no clear information relating to the willingness of Larsana Keita, whose name the Ministry of Foreign Affairs submitted to the court as the Arabic language interpreter for co-defendant Malam Conte, a Guinea Bissau national.
The other person is Tito Abanobi, who is expected to be a Portuguese interpreter for co-defendant Makki Admeh Issam. The two interpreters’ names and contact numbers were submitted on February 22 by the Deputy Foreign Minister/Legal Counsel, Deweh E Gray, to Judge Blamo Dixon, a highly placed judicial source confided in the Daily Observer.
The Ministry’s decision was triggered by a request from the defense counsel that co-defendants Malam Conte and Makki Admeh Issa could only understand and speak Arabic and Portuguese. But the source further claimed that Conte’s Arabic interpreter phone rang endlessly. “We also have Keita’s contact number, and since August 22, he has refused to answer our calls.”
“I don’t think we will commence the trial in the absence of the Arabic interpreter. This is strange because we don’t know about the arrangements between him and the ministry,” the source lamented. “But we are still hoping that he could change his mind and answer our calls. ”
The source claimed that they have not seen the two interpreters in person since the date their names were submitted to the court through written communication.
To authenticate the claim, the source claimed, Minister Gray’s letter said, “we acknowledge receipt of a cause of Action of Crimes, requesting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to call on the US Embassy to assist in providing two interpreters to the court.”
The letter continues, “the ministry wishes to inform you that it has identified two interpreters who will assist the court in said capacity.”
“The ministry would highly appreciate it if Your Honor could kindly inform us of the date and time the interpreter will avail themselves to perform their separate tasks,” Gray’s communication added.
The trial will begin with the selection and sequestration of the 12-member jury panel by both the defense counsel and the prosecution. This could happen only if interpreter Keita were to agree to attend to his appointed task. The absence of interpreters forced the postponement of the trial, which is now set to start Monday, February 27.
Judge Dixon then said the trial can begin on February 27, if the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has adequately informed the court about the appointment of the two interpreters, which they did through the communication. Dixon put off the trial last week to give the ministry time to get the interpreter after it requested additional time to contact the US Embassy to assist in that regard.
What is not mentioned in the letter is whether it was the US Embassy that suggested the two interpreters, one of whom has yet to show any interest in assisting the court.
The case grew from the government’s seizure of US$100 million worth of cocaine on October 1, 2022, in which one Oliver Zayzay, a Liberian national, and some of his foreign associates were arrested after seeking to purchase what appeared to be a shipping container full of fresh frozen pig feet from a refrigerated storage facility in Monrovia.
The defendants had initially offered to pay the owners of the container, AJA Group Holdings, the sum of US$200,000 for the entire container, which, at the time, cost less than US$30,000.
But when the defendants, within less than eight hours, doubled their offer to US$400,000 and, finally, to US$1 million, AJA Group said they were certain that Zayzay and his associates were dealing with a serious case of narcotics trafficking.
The company said they contacted the United States Ambassador, a move that brought both the American and Liberian anti-narcotics law enforcement agents into the picture and caught the suspects red-handed.
The US$100 million cocaine bust is believed to be the biggest arrest in terms of street value on the African continent so far.