Cape Verde court finds Russians guilty in record cocaine bust

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PRAIA (Reuters) - The Russian captain and crew of a cargo ship captured last year in Cape Verde with the biggest cocaine haul ever seized in the country were found guilty of drug trafficking and sentenced to jail on Friday.

The 9.5 tonnes of cocaine were seized in February 2019 after the ship, which was travelling to Morocco from South America, docked at the port of Praia for legal reasons following the death of a crew member.

An Atlantic archipelago of 500,000 people off Africa’s west coast, Cape Verde has long tried to tackle gangs trafficking Latin American cocaine to Europe via West Africa.

Captain Sergei Kotlovskii said during the trial that he had been forced to take the drugs onboard in the Caribbean by the ship’s owner and that the 10 crew members were not aware of the illicit cargo.

Kotlovskii got 12 years for international drug trafficking. The rest of the crew got 10 years for the same crime. They were acquitted of the second charge of criminal association.

“All the defendants were aware of the narcotic drug placed on the vessel and acted with intent, freely and consciously in exchange for economic benefit,” according to the court judgment read by Judge Angela Rodrigues.

Defence lawyer Martinho Landim lawyer said he would appeal the decision.

Use is rising of hard drugs like cocaine, heroin and amphetamines in West Africa, where countries that once served primarily as transit points for trade between South America and Europe are now active consumer markets.

(This story fixes garbled words in first paragraph)

Reporting By Julio Rodriges; Writing by Edward McAllister