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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Juan Pablo Camacho freed in Guinea-Bissau

BISSAU, Sept 5 (Reuters) -

A suspected Colombian drug-trafficker held in Guinea-Bissau has been freed on bail in a blow to police efforts to smash cocaine cartels using the poor West African state as a staging post, police said on Wednesday.

  • Juan Pablo Camacho was detained two weeks ago with another Colombian in an anti-drugs operation in the capital Bissau that seized arms, ammunition, grenades and large amounts of money.
  • He walked free from police custody on Tuesday after the Public Prosecutor's Office ordered his release on bail against the recommendation of the local judicial police chief. Details of the bail conditions were not immediately available.
  • International law enforcement officials, who are trying to help Guinea-Bissau fight the cocaine trade passing through West Africa, said Camacho had a record of trafficking and his release had foiled efforts to have him extradited to Colombia.
  • Asking not to be named, they expressed frustration at what they said was a repeat of a similar incident last year, in which two other Colombians arrested in Guinea-Bissau's biggest drugs haul were allowed to walk free, without clear explanation.
  • On that occasion, the 674 kg (1,486 lb) of cocaine seized by police subsequently disappeared from Guinea-Bissau's public treasury, where it had been stored for safe-keeping, in a scandal that has still not been explained.

The law enforcement officials say they fear corrupt government and military officers and members of the judiciary may be cooperating with the traffickers, who ship or fly the cocaine from Latin America and then on to Europe.

  • Senior military commanders have angrily denied media reports linking them to the drugs trade.
  • Camacho's local lawyer, Armando Mango, said there was insufficient evidence to convict his client on charges of illegal arms possession and money-laundering.
  • The other detained Colombian, Luis Fernando Ortega Mejia, was still in custody.
  • Judicial Police Chief Lucinda Aucarie had publicly called for Camacho and Ortega to be held while investigations continued into their suspected links with drug-trafficking.

Anti-narcotics experts say Guinea-Bissau's jagged and largely unguarded coastline provides ideal hiding places for drugs traffickers to set up clandestine storage depots, air strips and landing points.

The Rest @ REsuters Africa

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