Skip to main content
Press Release

Former Guinea-Bissau president’s son sent to U.S. prison for international drug trafficking

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Texas

HOUSTON – The leader of a transnational drug trafficking organization has been imprisoned for his involvement in an international heroin trafficking conspiracy, announced U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani.

Malam Bacai Sanha Jr., 52, pleaded guilty Sept. 6, 2023, to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance for the purpose of unlawful importation.

U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison has now ordered Sanha to serve an 80-month-term of imprisonment. Not a U.S. citizen, he is expected to face removal proceedings following his imprisonment. At the hearing, the court heard Sanha was the son of the former president of Guinea-Bissau and was intending to use drug proceeds to finance his future campaign for president in 2025 and a coup in that country. In handing down the sentence, the court noted Sanha was a leader and organizer in the heroin trafficking conspiracy and was directly involved in its importation from Europe to the United States. The court also found his drug trafficking activities to be extensive.

“The expansive reach of transnational criminal networks, like the one Sanha ran, presents a serious threat to the safety and health of all communities,” said Hamdani. “Sanha and his associates intended to distribute kilograms of heroin to the United States at a time when Americans lose their lives to drug overdose every day. This prosecution represents our office’s unwavering determination, together with our U.S. and international partners, to target and bring to justice violent criminals who lead transnational drug trafficking organizations that continue to flood our country with dangerous drugs.”

“The success of this investigation is the result of careful coordination between our federal, state, local and international partners,” said Special Agent in Charge Daniel C. Comeaux of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Houston Division. “Our goal is to keep the citizens of the United States safe from the terrors of drug traffickers, whether they reside on our soil or foreign land.” 

“Malam Bacai Sanha Jr. wasn’t any ordinary international drug trafficker,” said Special Agent in Charge Douglas Williams of the FBI Houston Field Office. “He is the son of the former president of Guinea-Bissau and was trafficking drugs for a very specific reason - to fund a coup that would eventually lead him to the presidency of his native country where he planned to establish a drug regime. Fortunately, FBI Houston agents and our partners at the DEA thwarted his attempts, with the cooperation of our international partners. Crime has a global reach and impact, and so does the FBI.”

Sanha was the leader of a transnational criminal organization and worked with co-conspirators and international individuals to import heroin from various countries into Portugal.

With the assistance of co-conspirators, Sanha provided 4.7 kilograms of heroin to an undercover member of law enforcement in Lisbon, Portugal, in February and March 2022. He further agreed to deliver the heroin on at least three occasions, believing it would be unlawfully imported into the United States.

On July 23, 2022, Tanzanian law enforcement arrested Sanha pursuant to domestic criminal charges, along with a co-conspirator, upon their arrival in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. The United States presented a formal request for Sanha’s extradition to the government of Tanzania, which the Tanzanian courts granted Aug. 5, 2022. The Tanzanian Minister of Constitutional and Legal Affairs signed the formal surrender order Aug. 16, 2022. Sanha and his co-conspirator arrived in the Southern District of Texas Aug. 26, 2022. 

Sanha will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

DEA Houston, FBI Houston and the U.S. Marshals Service conducted the investigation as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) Strike Force Initiative with the assistance of DEA Special Operations Division in Washington D.C., DEA Romania, DEA Portugal and DEA Tanzania as well as Portuguese Judicial Police. Thanks are also extended to the government of the United Republic of Tanzania. These OCDETF cooperative matters provide for the establishment of permanent multi-agency task force teams that work side-by-side in the same location. This co-located model enables agents from different agencies to collaborate on intelligence-driven, multi-jurisdictional operations to disrupt and dismantle the most significant drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs and transnational criminal organizations. The specific mission of the Houston Strike Force is to disrupt and dismantle the drug trafficking organizations that are designated as Consolidated Priority Organization or Regional Priority Organization Targets and that impact Houston and south Texas. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found on the Department of Justice’s OCDETF webpage.

The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs worked with Tanzanian authorities to secure the arrest and extradition of Sanha. The Justice Department thanks the government of the United Republic of Tanzania, including the Drug Control and Enforcement Authority, Tanzanian Police Force Airport Interdiction Unit, Director of Public Prosecution and the Ministry of Constitutional and Legal Affairs, and the Portuguese Judicial Police.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Casey N. MacDonald and Anibal J. Alaniz prosecuted the case.

Updated March 26, 2024

Drug Trafficking