Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Wendy C. Woolcock, Special Agent in Charge of the Special Operations Division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”), announced today that a jury returned guilty verdicts yesterday against JEAN-CLAUDE OKONGO LANDJI and JIBRIL ADAMU on the charge of conspiring to traffic five kilograms and more of cocaine on board an aircraft owned by a United States citizen and registered in the United States. U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe presided over the two-week trial.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “As a jury found, Jean-Claude Okongo Landji and Jibril Adamu sought to exploit their abilities as pilots and use Landji’s private jet to smuggle multi-ton loads of cocaine from South America to West Africa and on to Europe and elsewhere. Presuming they would be able to make regular runs to Europe, figuratively flying under the radar, Landji and Adamu were instead arrested in Croatia at the end of an initial test flight. Now they await sentencing for their crime.”
As reflected in the Indictment, public filings, and the evidence presented at trial:
Beginning in or about October 2017, LANDJI, ADAMU, and others agreed to use a United States-registered Gulfstream G2 private jet owned by LANDJI, a United States citizen, to distribute multi-ton quantities of cocaine in South America, Africa, Europe, and elsewhere. LANDJI and ADAMU, who are both pilots, planned to use the G2 and other aircraft to fly unregistered and untraceable “black flights” with multi-thousand kilogram loads of cocaine from South America to West Africa to be unloaded at clandestine airstrips, including landing sites in the Sahara desert. After the cocaine was off-loaded in Africa, LANDJI and ADAMU planned to use LANDJI’s aviation business, incorporated in the state of Georgia, as cover for cocaine smuggling flights to Europe and elsewhere. For example, LANDJI agreed to use his company to arrange seemingly legitimate passenger “VIP” flights to Europe for which ADAMU would serve as a pilot while concealing multi-ton quantities of cocaine hidden on board for further distribution in European countries. LANDJI and ADAMU further sought in particular to evade the scrutiny of the DEA and U.S. law enforcement and discussed methods to avoid the U.S. justice system. For example, during recorded meetings in 2018, LANDJI agreed to traffic cocaine by aircraft with a co-conspirator who warned “if you put one kilo on a plane that has the American registration, it’s the same thing as putting it . . . in the middle of . . . Madison Square Garden in New York. The same thing. For the justice system.”
On or about October 30, 2018, LANDJI and ADAMU conducted a test shipment and flew the G2 from Mali to Croatia with one kilogram of cocaine on board. LANDJI and ADAMU expected that their successful provision of the one-kilogram cocaine sample to clients in Europe would pave the way for providing twice-monthly shipments of cocaine worth as much as $40 million each in the European market. However, members of the Croatian National Police investigating LANDJI and ADAMU in coordination with the DEA searched the G2 following their arrival in Croatia, recovered the kilogram of cocaine, and arrested LANDJI and ADAMU. Both defendants were later extradited to the United States.
* * *
LANDJI, 58, of the United States and Gabon, and ADAMU, 58, of Nigeria, were convicted of one count of conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine with a United States citizen on board any aircraft, and on board an aircraft owned by a United States citizen or registered in the United States, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison. The statutory minimum and maximum sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by Judge Gardephe.
Mr. Williams praised the outstanding efforts of the DEA’s Special Operations Division Bilateral Investigations Unit, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security Investigations New York Office, the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency, and the Croatian National Police Office for the Suppression of Corruption and Organized Crime, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elinor L. Tarlow and Matthew J.C. Hellman are in charge of the prosecution.