Ethopian cafe owner arrested in major khat bust in Washington DC

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District police charged the owner of an Ethiopian cafe with the illegal narcotic khat after investigators intercepted hundreds pounds of the leafy substance, which is used as a common stimulant in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

Police recovered more than 300 pounds of khat that had a street value of more than $95,000, said Lt. John Haines of the 4th Police District.

The bust “removes a major drug traffic dealer” from the neighborhood north of Sherman Circle, Haines said in a statement.

Etana Shuremu, owner of the Diradawa Deli & Cafe, 5333 Georgia Ave. NW, has been charged with unlawful possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. No one answered the phone at the business Tuesday, and Shuremu’s attorney, Sara Kopecki, said she could not comment.diredawa_cafe_dc

According to court documents, the investigation began in February when a D.C. police officer got a tip from a confidential informant that boxes of khat were being shipped from overseas to the Ethiopian cafe. Khat is a plant cultivated in Kenya and Ethiopia that is typically chewed like tobacco, though it can be smoked and sprinkled on food. In its fresh state, it’s classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under United States law, along with drugs like LSD, PCP and Ecstasy. The khat leaves typically start to break down within 48 hours and become a much lesser stimulant considered a Schedule IV drug.

The leafy substance was shipped in boxes labeled “green tea” from the United Kingdom, police said. The source told police that 15 to 20 boxes were delivered three or four times a week. The informant provided cardboard packaging that contained the “green tea” label with a clear plastic bag containing khat residue that had been found in the trash, documents said.

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