By Konah Rufus
The Ministry of Justice is considering filing an extradition request to the United States government for Boye Benjamin Baker, the alleged ringleader behind the illegal importation of “military-grade” weapons in Liberia.
Discussions about Baker’s extradition, according to a high-placed source at the ministry, have been taking place and the result so far remains positive.
Such a move would mark a significant step up in the government’s effort to prosecute all those who have been accused of smuggling arms which include M16 and AK47 assault rifles and other long-range weapons and ammunition.
Baker, according to the police is a US-based Liberian that lives in Texas and the ringleader behind the smuggling of arms and ammunition that “can destroy the entire country due to their advanced sophistication.”
Liberia and the US government signed an extradition treaty that came into force on November 21, 1939, but, according to the document, the treaty was valid for five years.
There is no known extradition treaty between Liberia and the US other than the 1930 document, which states in ARTICLE XIII that “The present Treaty shall remain in force for five years.”
Since the treaty was signed, the US has failed to surrender any alleged fugitives requested by the government of Liberia. Liberia has however kept its side of the bargain years after a US circuit court ruled that the extradition treaty between the US and Liberia expired in 1944.
This would complicate any extradition request for Baker since his counsel would use it to argue that the Liberian government had no grounds to seek his extradition. It might also stall any judicial procedures against the other perpetrators in Liberia.
However, any determination of Liberia’s extradition request, which would be channeled through diplomatic means by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, would be at the mercy of the US State Department, which will then make a final determination after reviewing the request.
If the request is approved, the possible extradition of Baker would not be immediate since the US Justice Department will have to apply to a judge regarding the Liberian government’s extradition request, and then the final determination will be made on the argument put forward by both the US government lawyer and that of Baker’s.
However, the US government’s attitude of not granting Liberia an extradition request has continued to be a source of frustration in the US-Liberia bilateral relationships. In 1984, the regime of the late Samuel Doe made an extradition request to the US for Charles Taylor, who had fled to the US, having been accused of embezzling US$900,000 from the General Service Agency (GSA) where he once worked.
The request was however never honored. In 2013 also, the administration of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf filed an extradition request to the US government regarding the jailed former Managing Director of the Roberts International Airport (RIA), Ellen Cockrum, who was wanted in Liberia for alleged corruption.
The Sirleaf administration made diplomatic efforts but nothing materialized until the end of the Sirleaf administration.
In 2013, Cockrum was indicted by the Board of Directors of the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA) for alleged financial misappropriation of over US$500,000 but the extradition request did not materialize as the US was reluctant to accept the government’s request since the accused was a US citizen.
Last year, in the US, she was sentenced to jail for about 30 years after perpetrating a scheme to fraudulently obtain more than $7.9 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
According to the Liberia National Police, Baker’s deeds were uncovered after a joint security operation busted his smuggling operation involving the illegal importations of arms and ammunition at the Free Port of Monrovia.
He was then identified as the ringleader of the smuggling operation, with his address being Texas, United States of America, Police Inspector General, Patrick Sudue disclosed a few days ago.
“Boye Benjamin Baker is the one who is sending these military weapons to Liberia. He lives in Texas, USA, and works for an American airline,” Sudue said. “The quantity of the illegal importation remains huge and was smuggled into the country in a container.”
“We had an Intel on this container. We went to the Free Port to open up this container. In the first three boxes that were opened, we discovered some heavy weapons. We are talking about military weapons,” the police said.
Barbara Debah, a resident of the Old Road community, and another lady only identified as Melvina were named as Baker’s accomplices. The former was the designated recipient of the consignment while the latter was the clearing officer.
Some of the arms include M16 and AK47 rifles. The guns were seized at the Free Port and other areas of Montserrado county. The weapons, Sudue said, could destroy the country due to “their advanced sophistication, and were smuggled into the country in a container.
Another joint security operation, which was carried out at the Baker’s home in Brewerville, also led to the bust of an additional consignment of smuggled arms and ammunition hiding in the ceiling.
Meanwhile, the police have disclosed the discovery of additional 1,000 pieces of ammunition in the container that was confiscated from Baker.
“It will interest you to know that we have discovered additional arms on the container. We discovered one thousand bullet rounds on the container as part of our search operations,” said Police spokesperson, Moses Carter.
Carter reiterated the police remain committed to ensuring that they expose the motive behind the importation of arms and ammunition into the country and that legal action would be taken in protecting the peace and stability of the country.