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Ghanaian soldier in US army convicted of smuggling guns in blue barrels

Major Kojo Owusu Dartey, a Ghanaian soldier serving in the United States Army, has been found guilty of a series of serious offences related to firearm trafficking, a development that has marvelled both military and law enforcement circles.

Ghanaian soldier in U.S. army convicted of smuggling guns in blue barrels

According to a report by the United States Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of North Carolina, dated April 29, 2024, Dartey faces a maximum sentence of 240 months in prison.

The conviction stems from Dartey's involvement in smuggling firearms from the United States to Ghana, concealed within blue barrels ostensibly containing rice and household goods. The elaborate operation involved the purchase of firearms in the Fort Liberty area, as well as the enlistment of a U.S. Army Staff Sergeant to procure additional weapons from Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Between June 28 and July 2, 2021, Dartey acquired seven firearms himself and arranged for the purchase of three more through his associate. These weapons, including handguns, an AR15, 50-round magazines, suppressors, and a combat shotgun, were then concealed within blue barrels alongside rice and household items. The barrels were shipped from the Port of Baltimore, Maryland, to the Port of Tema in Ghana.

The Ghana Revenue Authority intercepted the illicit shipment, leading to the discovery of the firearms. The seizure was promptly reported to authorities, including the DEA attaché in Ghana and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Baltimore Field Division.

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In addition to the smuggling charges, Dartey was found guilty of dealing in firearms without a license, delivering firearms without notice to the carrier, illegally exporting firearms without a license, making false statements to a federal agency, making false declarations before the court, and conspiracy.

U.S. Attorney Michael Easley emphasized the collaborative effort involved in bringing Dartey to justice, praising the cooperation between law enforcement agencies in the United States and Ghana. He commended the Ghana Revenue Authority and the International Cooperation Unit Office of the Attorney-General of Ghana for their assistance in the investigation.

Toni M. Crosby, Special Agent in Charge of the ATF Baltimore Field Division, highlighted the grave implications of firearms trafficking, stressing its threat to public safety both domestically and internationally.

Dartey's conviction also revealed his involvement in another criminal case, U.S. v. Agyapong, concerning a marriage fraud scheme. In this case, Dartey had provided information to authorities about the scheme but later lied about his relationship with a defence witness during the trial.

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The investigation into Dartey's activities involved multiple agencies, including the ATF, Army Criminal Investigation Division, and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of Export Enforcement. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gabriel J. Diaz prosecuted the case with technical support from the DOJ Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.

As Dartey awaits sentencing on July 23, 2024, his case emphasises the vigilance required to combat international crime networks and uphold the rule of law.

Below is the full details of Dartey's case as reported by www.justice.gov:

A federal jury convicted a United States Army Major, currently assigned to Fort Liberty, on charges of dealing in firearms without a license, delivering firearms without notice to the carrier, smuggling goods from the United States, illegally exporting firearms without a license, making false statements made to an agency of the United States, making false declarations before the court, and conspiracy. Kojo Owusu Dartey, age 42, faces a maximum penalty of 240 months when sentenced on July 23, 2024.

“We are partnering with law enforcement agencies across the globe to expose international criminals – from money launderers to rogue international arms traffickers capable of fueling violence abroad,” said U.S Attorney Michael Easley. “Through a partnership with Ghanaian officials, this rogue Army Major was convicted at trial after smuggling guns to Ghana in blue barrels of rice and household goods. I want to thank the Ghana Revenue Authority and the International Cooperation Unit Office of the Attorney-General of Ghana for their assistance in the investigation. I also commend the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) attachés to U.S. Embassy Accra and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs of the Department’s Criminal Division for their significant assistance to this prosecution.”

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“Far from being a victimless crime, firearms trafficking threatens public safety across our nation and beyond,” said Toni M. Crosby, Special Agent in Charge of the ATF Baltimore Field Division. “The Baltimore Field Division is proud to partner with the Ghana Revenue Authority and ATF’s Charlotte and Louisville Field Divisions for this investigation, which has kept firearms off the streets — preventing them from being used in any number of killings and other crimes — and ended this international firearm trafficking scheme.”

According to court records and evidence presented at trial, between June 28 and July 2, 2021, Dartey purchased seven firearms in the Fort Liberty area and tasked a U.S. Army Staff Sergeant at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to purchase three firearms there and send them to Dartey in North Carolina. Dartey then hid all the firearms, including multiple handguns, an AR15, 50-round magazines, suppressors, and a combat shotgun inside blue barrels underneath rice and household goods and smuggled the barrels out of the Port of Baltimore, Maryland, on a container ship to the Port of Tema in Ghana. The Ghana Revenue Authority recovered the firearms and reported the seizure to the DEA attaché in Ghana and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Baltimore Field Division. At the same time, Dartey was a witness in the trial of U.S. v. Agyapong. A case that involved a 16-defendant marriage fraud scheme between soldiers on Fort Liberty and foreign nationals from Ghana that Dartey had tipped off officials to. In preparation for the trial, Dartey lied to federal law enforcement about his sexual relationship with a defense witness and lied on the stand and under oath about the relationship.

Michael Easley, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, made the announcement after Chief U.S. District Judge Richard E. Myers II accepted the verdict. The ATF, Army Criminal Investigation Division and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of Export Enforcement investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gabriel J. Diaz prosecuted it with technical assistance from David Ryan, DOJ Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.

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