At a time when the United Nations Office on Drugs and Corruption is expressing deep concern about illicit drug trafficking in West Africa, a United States government and a Chicago Court have linked and traced an alleged drug smuggling king pin to Nigeria and declared him a fugitive offender, although he is believed to be a citizen of neighboring Benin Republic.
According to Empowered Newswire, Nigeria’s name came up in a recent court ruling by Judge Charles Norgle of the US District Court in Chicago, who upheld the indictment of a Beninoise multi-millionaire, Mr. Buruji Kashamu by the US government for drug smuggling charges and heroin importation conspiracy, for which some of his co-conspirators have been jailed and served prison times already.
GA_googleFillSlot( “AllAfrica_Other_Inset” ); Mr. Buruji Kashamu has since been indicted twice in the US, according to court papers. Two weeks ago, Buruji whose residency in Nigeria was said to have been established by the US government, according to court papers is frantically fighting the charges asking the court to reconsider its recent decision to uphold the charges and reject his motion to quash a bench warrant for his arrest.
According to Judge Norgle’s ruling, the case is “in somewhat of an unusual posture: Kashamu, whom the government indicates may currently be in Nigeria, has filed the motion approximately eleven years after his indictment, and several years after many of the individuals he allegedly directed to smuggle heroin have completed their terms of incarceration.”
Declaring Mr. Buruji Kashamu a fugitive from the law in the US, the Court stated “since Kashamu has retained a Chicago law firm to represent him in this matter, and the only information the Court has regarding his whereabouts indicates that he may be somewhere in Nigeria, the Court can safely infer than Kashamu is aware of the charges against him, and is purposefully absenting himself from the United States to avoid arrest and arraignment on charges. This Court therefore considers Kashamu a fugitive.”
But Kashamu’s lawyers led by Pravin B. Rao who is based in Chicago had in February this year filed the motion to quash the arrest warrant against him and to dismiss indictment of him by the US government. The Court ruled to deny the motion in September 25 after the United States government lawyers led by Diane MacArthur of the US Attorney office in Chicago had opposed the motion.
However two week ago, Kashamu’s lawyers again filed a new motion for “reconsideration of Denial of Motion to Quash Arrest Warrant and to Dismiss Indictment on Merits.” Subsequently the Judge two days later, directed the US government to respond to the new motion for reconsideration by next month, December 1.
US Court papers indicate that Kashamu is the alleged kingpin of an international smuggling ring dealing in narcotics. According to U.S government’s evidence tabled before the court, as far back as 1992, “Kashamu was the head of this smuggling organization.”
Although he is now said to be based in Nigeria, court papers alleged that Kashamu would normally invite his smuggling crew composed of different nationalities around the world to spend time with him in Republic of Benin, where he directed affairs including financing, and facilitating the smuggling of heroin into the United States. The United States government court filings also stated how Kashamu allegedly received the proceeds from the illicit trade. For instance the “Evidentiary Statements” of the United States government filed at the Chicago court stated that his crew “transported large sums of cash from Chicago to Europe for delivery to Kashamu.”
It was however in March 1994, according to US government allegations filed in court that one of the couriers in his group, Kary Hayes was arrested at the Chicago’s O’Hare Airport in possession of 14.6 pounds of heroin in his suit case. In July of that same year, a second courier Jeff Olsen was again arrested at the San Francisco Airport trying to enter the US with a heroin-filled bag. Another member of the group resident in San Francisco Barry Blow who was in the airport to receive Olsen was also arrested.
US Court papers filed by the United States Attorney General’s office said “over the time span of the (smuggling) conspiracy, there were at least 11-smuggling-related overseas trips…Kashamu made all the arrangements for these trips and for the delivery and pickup of heroin and money.”
At trial, Hayes who was arrested in Chicago disclosed the identity of members of the smuggling ring and according to Judge Norgle, “brought down the entire conspiracy. It was on the strength of this that the US government brought charges against 14 people including buruji Kashamu, whom the Judge described as the “alleged Kingpin,” adding that Buruji Kashamu resided then in the Republic of Benin. 11 of those defendants, according to Judge Norgle’s ruling pleaded guilty, and the only one that contested the charges, by the name of Peter Stebbins was convicted after 7 other defendants testified against him.
Buruji Kashamu’s lawyer citing a favorable ruling by a British court in 1999 are however arguing that it is Kashamu’s brother that is the heroin dealer based both in Nigeria and Benin that the US government are looking for
Dissatisfied with Kashamu’s claim, Judge Norgle in his ruling denying Kashamu’s motion to quash charges and United States’ arrest warrant on him added that some of the female co-defendants testified of their relationship with Kashamu,” counteracting the claim of Kashamu’s argument that he may have been wrongly identified as the suspect in this case.
According to Judge Norgle, of the 14 defendants charged in the case, 12 have been convicted and sentenced, and many have been released after serving their jail time. But two remain at large, one of which is Buruji Kashamu whom the United States government believes now resides somewhere in Nigeria.
Kashamu’s lawyers in the US are arguing that the US government should also follow the path of the British court which decided that Kashamu’s brother is the suspect and on that grounds terminate a prosecution that has been on since 1994 under the principles of ‘res judicata and collateral estoppels”. Res judicata and collateral estoppels means respectively claim preclusion and issue preclusion.
It means once a court has decided an issue of fact or law necessary to its judgment, that decision may preclude relitigation of the issue in a suit on a different cause of action involving a party to the first case. But the United States government argued that Kashamu is simply a fugitive from United States justice. The United states government also based its argument on the US Supreme Court doctrine of fugitive disentitlement that those who have fled from judicial process cannot benefit from the cited principle.
However the Court ruled that Kashamu would not be permitted to litigate the merits of his case “until he appears before the Court.” Concluding, the Judge said, “even now eleven years after the return of the indictment, the door to the (US) federal courtroom remains open to Kashamu.” The Judge therefore, dismissed Kashamu’s motion to quash arrest warrant and dismiss indictment. Kashamu has since filed a Motion through his lawyers requesting the Judge to reconsider its ruling. The United States government has until December 1, 2009 to file its response to Kashamu’s Motion.