Jamaica party seeks probe of who hired firm to lobby US on alleged drug lord's extradition

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — Jamaica's opposition called Sunday for an independent investigation into who hired lobbyists to try to persuade the U.S. government to drop its extradition request for alleged drug lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke.

The People's National Party said in a statement that a commission of inquiry should be formed because the government has failed to provide a "full and truthful" account of precisely who contracted U.S. firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips last year.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding initially denied any role in the lobbying contract. But he later acknowledged personally approving the decision to hire the firm while his government resisted the request to extradite Coke, the alleged boss of the notorious Shower Posse gang.

Golding apologized to Jamaicans for not being more forthcoming and said he authorized the deal in his capacity as leader of the governing Jamaica Labour Party. He said the $50,000 paid to the firm came from party donors.

The People's National Party said only an independent panel can determine the whole truth.

"The government has still not provided a full and truthful account of the issues related to either the Manatt Phelps and Phillips relationship or the elements of the extradition request for Christopher Coke," the party said.

A spokesman for Golding's government did not immediately return a call seeking a response.

In May, a hunt for Coke in his West Kingston slum stronghold led to a confrontation that killed 73 civilians and three security officers over four days of fighting.

Coke finally was arrested June 22 at a police checkpoint while wearing a wig and traveling in a preacher's car. He was sent to the United States days later under tight security.

Now jailed in New York, Coke has pleaded not guilty to charges that he ran a big drug ring in the eastern United States from his base in Jamaica's capital.

Golding, whose party has long counted on the support of gunmen inside Coke's Tivoli Gardens slum, opposed the U.S. extradition request for nine months before reversing course under heavy political pressure.