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High-Ranking Nigerian Police Officer Arrested for Alleged Drug Trafficking

FILE - A National Drug and Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) official searches for evidence of illegal substances in Obinugwu village in southeast Nigeria, Nov. 22, 2018.
FILE - A National Drug and Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) official searches for evidence of illegal substances in Obinugwu village in southeast Nigeria, Nov. 22, 2018.

Nigerian police have arrested a high-ranking police officer and four other officers for alleged involvement in an international cocaine smuggling cartel. Deputy police commissioner Abba Kyari had already been suspended since August over an indictment linking him to money laundering and fraud in the United States.

A police statement Monday said the officers were arrested for tampering with narcotic evidence, corruption and unethical practices.

Hours earlier, Nigeria's National Drug and Law Enforcement Agency, or NDLEA, alleged that Kyari had plotted to loot up to 15 kilograms of cocaine from a batch of 25 kilograms seized in January.

The drug agency also released footage showing Kyari bargaining with an undercover drug agency official and handing over $61,400 cash to him.

Police authorities have turned over the arrested officers to the national drug agency for investigation, stating that their conduct was not in line with tenets of the Nigerian police force.

This is not the first time Kyari will be indicted in a criminal case. He was already accused of helping an international fraudster popularly known as Hushpuppi Menthim launder money in the U.S., following an investigation by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

"We have a trove of intelligence, hard facts from chats to photos and videos and a detailed transcript of the communication between him and the NDLEA officer," said Femi Babafemi, a director at Nigeria's National Drug Agency. "The 15 kilograms already taken out was shared between the informants that provided the information for the seizure and himself, as well as his men of the IRT (Intelligence Response Team) of the Nigerian police."

Babafemi said the arrested officers are members of a drug ring operating in Nigeria, Ethiopia and Brazil.

Police authorities said the cartel was working with anti-drug officers at the international airport in southeastern state of Enugu — the transit route for their operations.

They say Kyari's involvement with the cartel occurred while he was suspended from the police force.

The arrest of the police officers dismays Nigerians like Abuja resident Daniel Yerimah.

"It's quite disheartening and disappointing, the situation is really appalling and this further reinforces distrust Nigerian citizens have for law enforcement agencies," Yerimah said. "If someone who's that highly placed could be involved in this level of crime, then that shows you the rot that is in the system."

Nigeria is ranked among countries with the highest trafficking and drug use in West Africa.

For years, Nigerian authorities have been battling both drug trafficking and corruption. Last December, authorities launched a drug control master plan in Nigeria — a project sponsored by the European Union under the supervision of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

But drug agency director Babafemi said efforts to identify criminals can be very risky for those involved.

"We're not unaware of threats to the lives of NDLEA officers involved in this investigation even as we continue to do our best to protect our officers, our men in the line of duty," Babafemi said.

In 2016, Kyari received a presidential recognition after he was part of a rescue team that freed three kidnapped schoolgirls in Lagos.

He was called for questioning by the NDLEA last Thursday but failed to show up.