Guinea Bissau's ex-navy chief sentenced in prison in U.S. drug case

October 4, 2016 3:52 PM EDT

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By Brendan Pierson and Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former navy chief of Guinea-Bissau who was arrested three years ago in a U.S. drug sting off the West African coast was sentenced on Tuesday to four years in prison, most of which he has already served, for conspiring to facilitate the shipment of cocaine to the United States.

Former Rear Admiral Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto, 70, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan after pleading guilty in May 2014 to conspiring to import narcotics into the United States.

Na Tchuto has been cooperating with authorities in the time since, Berman said, a factor the judge considered in sentencing Guinea-Bissau's former navy chief of staff, who was a fighter in the country's 1956-1973 independence war.

He has been incarcerated since April 2013 and is expected to receive credit for good behavior, meaning he could be released immediately, his attorney, Patrick Joyce, said at the hearing.

"I don't have a lot to say besides saying that I'm sorry for my act," Na Tchuto said, through an interpreter, before Berman handed down his sentence.

Poverty-stricken Guinea-Bissau, on the west coast of Africa, is viewed by U.S. authorities as a major way point for South American-produced narcotics that are then shipped on to locations in Europe and elsewhere.

In 2010, U.S. Department of the Treasury designated Na Tchuto a drug kingpin after what it said were long-held suspicions that he was a major drug trafficking facilitator.

In 2012, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration began a probe targeting drug trafficking in West Africa, using informants posing as representatives of South American drug traffickers.

Prosecutors said Na Tchuto and two of his aides, Tchamy Yala and Papis Djeme, met with the informants from 2012 to 2013 to discuss the shipment of hundreds of kilograms of cocaine from South America to Guinea Bissau that would be sent onward.

In meetings, Na Tchuto said it was a good time for the drug transaction given the Guinea Bissau government's weakness following a recent coup, and he sought a $1 million fee per 1,000 kilograms of cocaine, prosecutors said.

Na Tchuto, Yala and Djeme were arrested on a luxury yacht off the country's coast in April 2013, after being asked to meet with purported members of the organization the informants claimed to represent, prosecutors said.

Djeme and Yala pleaded guilty and were sentenced in 2014 to prison terms of 6-1/2 years and five years, respectively.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson and Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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