KINGSTON, Jamaica — Jamaica’s prime minister now says he will allow a reputed drug kingpin to be extradited to the U.S., ending a nine-month fight with Washington but raising fears of a violent backlash from the suspect’s supporters.
The announcement Monday night marked a reversal for Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who faced mounting public pressure to drop his opposition to the request for Christopher “Dudus” Coke. The wanted man allegedly controls a band of gunmen inside a barricaded neighborhood of west Kingston that Golding represents in parliament.
As rumors of the government’s decision spread before the official announcement, the streets of downtown Kingston emptied as businesses and government agencies closed early out of fear of violence. Coke’s supporters have been rumored to be stockpiling weapons to prevent his arrest since the extradition request was revealed in August.
But Coke’s lawyer, Tom Tavares-Finson, said his client is prepared to fight extradition in court. He said there would be no violence on Coke’s insistence.
“Absolutely not, he just wants us to go to court,” Tavares-Finson said.
Coke has ties of loyalty to Golding’s Jamaica Labor Party, which like the main opposition party has loose affiliations with organized crime dating to the 1970s when political factions armed gunmen to intimidate election rivals.
In a nationally televised address Monday night, Golding said his party had become improperly involved in the dispute and expressed remorse for his handling of the case.
“This matter of the extradition has consumed too much of our energies and attention and has led to a virtual paralysis that must be broken,” he said. “The minister of justice, in consideration of all the factors, will sign the authorization for the extradition process to commence.”
Golding did not indicate how long it would take before security forces move on Coke.
The prime minister had stonewalled the extradition request since it was revealed in August with claims that the U.S. indictment relied on illegal wiretap evidence.
His handling of the case, in particular his authorization of a U.S. firm to lobby Washington to drop the request, provoked an outcry that threatened his political career. With opposition parties and public sector groups calling for his resignation, the governing party vouched for him following a high-level conference over the weekend.
He said he offered his resignation on Sunday but it was rejected by the party.
Golding’s opposition to the extradition strained relations with the United States, which questioned the Caribbean island’s reliability as an ally in the fight against trafficking in a State Department report earlier this year.
A businessman known for his work as a show promoter, Coke has kept a high public profile in the ghettos west of Kingston, reportedly handing out cash and school supplies to needy children. He is also credited with helping to keep order by using his authority to punish thieves and other criminals in an area where the government has little presence.
Coke’s father was Lester Lloyd Coke, better known as Jim Brown, a leader of the Shower Posse during the 1980s cocaine wars. U.S. prosecutors say Christopher Coke took over the organization after his father died in a 1991 prison fire while awaiting extradition to the United States.
Under the younger Coke’s direction, Shower Posse members have sold marijuana and crack cocaine in the New York area and elsewhere and funneled profits back to him, U.S. authorities allege. He faces life in prison if convicted on charges filed against him in New York.