Maputo — The Mozambican police on Sunday seized 4.6 kilos of rhinoceros horns and large sums of foreign currency from four people believed to part of an international ring of traffickers in rhino horn.
Speaking on Monday, at his weekly press briefing, the spokesperson for the Maputo City police command, Orlandon Mudumane, said the four people arrested were two Mozambicans and two South Koreans resident in South Africa.
They were arrested in central Maputo near the city's Handicrafts Fair, after the police received a tip-off. When the police searched the car the group was using, they found the rhino horn, 93,500 US dollars, 2,400 South African rands (equivalent to about 200 dollars), and four cell phones.
The two Mozambicans, presented to the press, denied any connection with the rhino horn. They told reporters that when the police arrested them, they were merely selling sculptures to the Koreans.
“I'm a sculptor and I was with those men selling them one of my pieces”, said one of the suspects. “I don't even know them. I'm surprised when the police say I'm a poacher”.
Mudumane said a team from the customs service, the Criminal Investigation Police (PIC), and the Agriculture Ministry is now working on the case, and looking into the origins of the money seized.
“It is suspected that such large sums are the product of poaching”, said Mudumane.
The arrests show again that Maputo is on the route used by traffickers to smuggle rhino horn from South Africa to markets in Asia, particularly Vietnam. Since both species of African rhinoceros, black and white, are believed to be extinct in southern Mozambique, the horn seized on Sunday almost certainly came from a rhino slaughtered in South Africa's Kruger National Park.
Rhino horn is currently worth more than the equivalent weight in gold or cocaine - and entirely because of unfounded beliefs that the horn can cure all manner of ailments, including cancer. In reality, rhino horn consists entirely of keratin, the protein which is also the main component of human hair and fingernails.
Mudumane said that at Maputo airport the immigration authorities prevented 19 foreigners from entering the country.
Two had no entry visas, 14 were carrying forged entry visas in their passports, and three could not say why they were visiting the country or where they intended to stay.
Every week foreigners, often from Asia, are detained at the airport because they have forged entry visas. Clearly there is a criminal outfit somewhere that forges Mozambican entry visas, but the people who buy these documents are unaware that Maputo airport has the equipment that can detect forgeries.