March 24, 2006

Kenya delays disposal of Africa’s biggest drug haul

By Katie Nguyen

NAIROBI (Reuters) - A Kenyan judge postponed the
destruction of a record 1.1 tonne cocaine haul for a week from
Friday to give Western experts time to verify the cache, which
diplomats fear may have been tampered with.

"I allow the adjournment because the state is not ready for
the destruction of the drugs," Chief Magistrate Aggrey
Muchelule said, adding it would be destroyed next Friday.

Police seized the haul -- worth an estimated $88 million
and said at the time to be Africa's biggest drug catch -- in
December 2004. Fifteen months on, Western diplomats fear some
of the cocaine has smuggled into their countries.

"Our concern is that there is this enormous haul of cocaine
sitting and waiting to be stolen," one Western diplomat said.

Experts from Britain, the United States and the United
Nations are expected to analyze the stash, which has been under
24-hour police guard.

"We expect them to get in on Sunday to allow us time ... to
prepare ourselves for the destruction," Director of Public
Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko said.

Tobiko asked the court last week to order the cocaine be
destroyed, to relieve the burden of guarding the haul and halt
rumors in local media -- denied by police -- that some of it
has disappeared from custody.

Police seized the cocaine in raids on a Nairobi warehouse
and a speed boat moored off the Indian Ocean coastal town of
Malindi. Two Italians and four Kenyans have been charged with
trafficking cocaine.

The seizures prompted the International Narcotics Control
Board to say in its 2005 annual report that cocaine traffickers
may have started to use east Africa as a transit area.

National carrier Kenya Airways introduced sniffer dogs in
January in an effort to crack down on drug trafficking after
two flight attendants were arrested in London last year on
suspicion of smuggling cocaine into Britain.

(Additional reporting by Humphrey Malalo)