| 12.9°C Dublin

Drug gang 'on payroll of Jamaican prime minister'

The same drug gang that is now battling security forces in Jamaica in a bloody stand-off was openly used by the island's ruling party to intimidate opposition voters in elections three years ago.

The 'Shower Posse' gang, led by the outlaw and alleged drug kingpin Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, was locked in brutal combat with more than a thousand members of Jamaica's security forces in West Kingston, in a bid to stave off their leader's extradition to the US on drug and gun charges.

The clashes have so far killed more than 30.

The masked gunmen fighting for underworld boss Christopher 'Dudus' Coke say he provides services and protection -- all funded by a criminal empire that seemed untouchable until the US demanded his extradition.

Coke, who the US Justice Department calls one of the world's most dangerous drug lords, has built a loyal following in Tivoli Gardens, his West Kingston slum stronghold.

US authorities say he has been trafficking cocaine to the streets of New York City since the mid-1990s, allegedly hiring island women to hide the drugs on themselves on flights to the US.

Yesterday masked gunmen in West Kingston vanished down side streets barricaded with barbed wire and abandoned cars. The sound of gunfire echoed across the slums on Jamaica's south coast, far from the tourist meccas of the north shore.

But the hostilities were in sharp contrast to previous relations between Coke and the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), led by Prime Minister Bruce Golding.


David Rowe, a University of Miami adjunct professor and lawyer who specialises in Jamaican law, says they used to have an "almost symbiotic relationship".

Although security minister Dwight Nelson, insisted that police were "on top of the situation", there was little evidence of the violence abating.

But the JLP is not alone in its responsibility for the situation. As Kingston endures its worst violence in years, there was little escaping the fact that it was sown over many years not just by the JLP but also by the main opposition: the People's National Party (PNP).

Kingston was reaping the consequences of that tolerance last night. Although security forces broke through the barricades around the Tivoli Gardens neighbourhood and cut off the electricity supply to Coke's power-base, gunshots could still be heard.

According to residents, bodies were lying in the streets.

Yesterday the violence in West Kingston spilled over to other poor neighbourhoods.

A firefight in Spanish Town killed two people, including a boy, and streets and businesses across the capital were deserted.

Meanwhile, gangs from slums outside the capital erected barricades and fired on troops. Officers have detained 211 people believed to be Coke's supporters and seized guns, ammunition and bullet-proof vests.

It was partly the expanding reach of Coke's power that prompted the US Justice Department last August to submit its formal request for his extradition to Mr Golding, who stalled for nine months before last week finally acquiescing.

For years, a sort of balance of power existed between the parties and the gangs. The drug dons would fundraise for campaigns and mobilise voters at election time.

The politicians would promise contracts and turn a blind eye to their drug-trafficking activities.

When Coke's father, Lester Coke, who headed the Shower Posse before him, died in prison in 1992, Edward Seaga, the Prime Minister and JLP leader, marched at his funeral. Coke's former lawyer was a senior figure in the JLP. And his consulting company has earned millions over the years from government contracts.


The US State Department made clear in a report on the delays in the Coke extradition that it understood the history.

"The government of Jamaica's unusual handling of the August request for the extradition of a high-profile Jamaican crime lord, with reported ties to the ruling JLP ... raises serious questions about the government's commitment to combating transnational crime," it said.