Customs Brokers Accuse Abi Jaoudi of Link to US$100M Cocaine

Abi Jaoudi Group of Companies has been accused by the President of the National Customs Brokers Association of Liberia of being connected to the smuggled US$100 million consignment of cocaine that the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA) confiscated last weekend. 

The accusation by James Hinneh claimed that TRH Trading Incorporation, which is a frozen food company, is an extension of the Abi Jaoudi Group of Companies. Hinneh alleged that Abi Jaoudi, smuggled the drugs into the country via TRH Trading, saying the Lebanese-owned company is receiving preferential treatment from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry to import anything with little or no scrutiny. 

“So, usually they are given preferences, and to our dismay, the TRH is the only company that says their frozen food import notification form has no hindrance,” Hinneh said. “They go to the Commerce Ministry, sign today and, in some cases, they do not even go to the Ministry to notify the government (Ministry of Commerce) that they are bringing goods into the country.”

The NCBAL president, who spoke on October 4 claimed that the Ministry of Commerce and its Minister has given the Abi Jaoudi Group preferential treatment to import goods at any time without permission. 

“To be very clear, the import process has procedures and, as we have done a little bit of research on this particular consignment that came into the country with drugs, we are disappointed about the ignoring of the established procedures that facilitated the drugs coming into the country.” 

In response to the allegation, Samuel Nimely, General Manager of Abi Jaoudi, said he has no knowledge of what the president of the NCBAL is talking about.

“I have no knowledge of what that Customs Broker president was talking about,” Nimely said. “You know what all these questions, you need to channel them to the Commerce Ministry because they are people who are supposed to answer them.” 

The drugs were found among a consignment of frozen goods in a warehouse belonging to SONIT Inc. However, a brief statement sent via email to the Daily Observer on October 4 from a SONIT Inc reads: “SONIT LIBERIA INC. has ceased its operations for the past two years and no longer carry out any business activity in Monrovia/Liberia.” 

“Consequently,” SONIT Inc continues, “our offices in Monrovia have been closed since 2021 and our cold stores located in Monrovia have been rented out effectively from the 1st day of October 2021 to TRH TRADING CORPORATION. Take notice that the cold stores and the cargoes related to it are solely under the management of TRH TRADING CORPORATION.” 

Currently, the LDEA and National Security Agency (NSA), has arrested two foreigners and is searching for two more suspects for smuggling the US$100 million of cocaine seized.

The US$100 million cocaine was seized on October 1, in plain view following well-verified intelligence from the U.S. government by the LDEA) and National Security Agency (NSA), when they stormed the compound of  SONIT Liberia incorporated,  in Topoe Village along the Japanese Freeway.  SONIT  is a frozen food company .

“So, this company has been given a privilege by the Minister of Commerce, Mawine Diggs, to the extent that we are aware that Abi Jaoudi, without notifying the Ministry of Commerce, MTEF Scientific, to make sure that their documentation is in process and gets a clean report of findings before they make a declaration to customs for payment of revenue as the process requires, but they only make a declaration based on their invoice, which is a complete overlook of the process.”

“To us, we think the rules have to be applied to every importer in the country; you cannot subject a particular importer to not follow the established procedure and give Abi Jaoudi import leverage,” he said.

“But I would like to mention that there are some defects in the process that was established and we, as an institution, believe that the rules established by stakeholders, the LRA, the Ministry of Commerce specifically, the MTEF Scientific, that we are supposed to follow as custom brokers are not a level playing field.”

According to him, there are other companies in the economy that are being given privileges like Abi Jaoudi to ignore the relevant steps that they need to follow for some reason that he cannot explain.

“Let me state very clearly that the National Customs Brokers Association is here to support the government in the fight against illicit drugs and unwanted substances in our country.  Once we identify them, we will report them to the relevant authorities so that we can try to curb some of those issues, “he continued.

Meanwhile, when Ministry of Commerce Communication Director, Jacob Parley was contacted, he promised to respond in the soonest possible time.

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