Liberian authorities admitted on Monday they had lost all traces of four drug dealers linked to a cocaine shipment worth 100 million dollars after a trial jury unexpectedly acquitted them.
With US and Brazilian assistance, Liberian security officials seized a container full of cocaine in October 2022.
The four men — one Liberian, a Portuguese, a Lebanese and a Guinea-Bissau national — were arrested trying to take ownership of the 520 kilos of cocaine smuggled from Brazil, according to Justice Minister Frank Musah Dean Jr.
It was touted as one of Liberia’s biggest successes against drug smugglers.
But on May 18, a jury in Monrovia found them not guilty, and the court ordered the $200,000 cash taken from them to be returned.
The four fled straight after their release by the court, said Musa Dean.
“They can’t be found. We don’t know where they are. They have fled,” Information Minister Ledgerhood Rennie told AFP.
The case lit up social networks with questions about the value of a people’s jury in the West African nation.
The justice minister warned that the verdict undermined the efforts of Liberia and an international coalition to clamp down on the illegal drug trade.
“The courts must be ready to act in conformity with the laws and the gravity of the breach of our laws,” said Musa Dean.
“The accused were caught red-handed attempting to take ownership of the container holding the illicit drug by attempting to bribe the businessman housing the container,” he said.
“Yet the court, through the … a 12-man jury said such brazen evidence didn’t warrant a guilty verdict.
“What more can the joint security and the Justice Ministry do to convince the court that the law was broken,” he pleaded.
“These kinds of verdicts only lend credence to the widely held international and local perception that the judiciary, namely the courts, are inherently compromised,” said the minister.
“The ruling has also brought Liberia to international ridicule.”
A US State Department report last year on human rights in Liberia found judges faced attempts to sway their rulings. Defence and prosecution lawyers encouraged defendants to pay up for the right outcomes.