- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 31, 2012

DOUALA, Cameroon — The arrest of a Nigerian allegedly smuggling heroin here highlights what officials say is a growing problem of drug trafficking in Central Africa.

Egboka Ikechukwu, 28, appeared in court in Douala, Cameroon’s economic hub, Oct. 25 to respond to charges of cross-border drug trafficking.

Mr. Ikechukwu was arrested Oct. 23 by police at Douala International Airport shortly after arriving on a Kenya Airways flight. He has been formally charged with the possession of 15 pounds of heroin.

“The passenger’s behavior betrayed suspicion, which prompted an exhaustive search of his person and luggage by customs agents,” said Customs Subdivision Commander Gregoire Biloa. “They found three empty carryalls whose stitches had been tampered with to hide the powder, which has been tested and confirmed to be heroin.”

Mr. Ikechukwu faces up to 10 years of imprisonment and fines that could amount to $20,000, said Mr. Biloa.

Speaking to The Associated Press from his jail cell, Mr. Ikechukwu denied the charges.

He insisted he is a prosperous businessman in Nigeria, and he flew to Bujumbura, Burundi, via Nairobi, Kenya, on Oct. 18 to visit a friend.

“I don’t know who put the drug in my bag. I don’t know whether it’s in my hotel room in Bujumbura that they did this thing to me. In my life, I’ve never pushed drugs before. I don’t know anything about drugs,” said Mr. Ikechukwu.

“I’m a businessman. I have my own shop in Nigeria, and I’m doing well. I went to Bujumbura to visit my friend, and from there, I came back to Cameroon to see one of my friends, that’s all. And now I find myself in all this mess. It’s a setup,” he insisted.

Hub for transit and use

Despite his denials, Mr. Ikechukwu is one of a growing number of suspected drug traffickers here, according to the state prosecutor as well as the customs and police departments.

The arrest is the latest in a steadily swelling series in recent months that show that Cameroon and Central Africa are fast becoming a transit zone and marketplace for South America’s drug cartels, according to Mr. Biloa.

There has been a dramatic increase in seizures of cocaine and heroin amounting to hundreds of pounds, according to data from border police and customs departments at air and seaports in the subregion.

That is a significant increase from a few grams a couple of years ago.

The neighboring region of West Africa already has become established as a transit point to Europe for South American traffickers, according to a report issued in July by regional Interpol officials.

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