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Liberian Government Investigates Drugs Seized at Airport

FILE - Officials from the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency prepare to burn a heap of recently seized marijuana, in Paynseville, on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia, Friday, Nov. 15, 2013.

MONROVIA — The Liberian government says it has launched an investigation into the origin of several boxes containing illegal substances confiscated at Roberts International Airport in the capital, Monrovia.

On Monday, Liberian newspaper FrontPage Africa reported the discovery of 100 boxes containing illicit drugs that arrived in Liberia on Aug. 31, through Kenya Airways. The boxes bypassed the watchful eye of the head of security at the airport.

Following the revelation, the Liberia Airport Authority disclosed the boxes contained green leaf stevia or organic stevia leaves — also known as Moringa — which is usually used in tea. The leaves were said to be in customs custody and would be turned over to the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency, LDEA, for further testing.

On Tuesday, the Justice Ministry, through the Ministry of Information, issued a statement confirming the interception of the boxes

The statement said the seized boxes — packaged and in natural form — at the Roberts International Airport included methamphetamine.

The statement said Justice Minister Frank Musah Dean had ordered the Joint Security of Liberia and the LDEA to expand their investigations into the importation of illegal drugs and to bring those involved to book.

Neither the minister of justice nor the minister of information was available for comment.

Michael Jipply, the public relations officer of the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency, said following the opening of cartons in the packages, a substance believed to be narcotics was discovered.

"A sample was brought to town through our lab technicians, and it is confirmed that indeed those substances believed to be narcotics tested positive for methamphetamine," he told VOA.

Eddie Jarwolo, the executive director of Naymote, a civil society group promoting democracy and human rights, says he is not satisfied with the government's response.

"For the LDEA to come up after almost 10 days is belated; even the Information Ministry statement is belated," he said. "The government should not take the issue of drugs lightly. Drugs can undermine the peace and stability of the country. Since Aug. 30, the boxes were seized, and today is the 12th. Why did they take that long after they said it was moringa? It is a total contradiction."

In May, after a months-long trial, a Monrovia jury acquitted four men linked to the illegal transportation of $100 million worth of drugs into Liberia.

After their acquittal, the men left the country. The government has yet to make public who brought the drugs into Liberia.

The latest confiscation of illicit drugs has raised more questions, especially as the country is set to vote in presidential and parliamentary elections on Oct. 10.