Maputo — The General Command of the Mozambican police on Tuesday confirmed that senior police officers were indeed involved in last month's theft of 12 rhino horns, thus contradicting a statement by the Maputo provincial police command that no policemen had taken part in the theft.
The 12 horns were part of the country's largest ever seizure of illicit wildlife products. On 12 May police raided a house in the southern city of Matola and seized 340 elephant tusks and 65 rhino horns. Two Chinese citizens were arrested, suspected of attempting to smuggle these goods out of the country.
But less than a fortnight later 12 of the horns had vanished, replaced by replicas made out of cattle horns. Six people were arrested in connection with the theft, but initially, the Maputo provincial commanded refused to confirm or deny whether any of them were police officers.
However, at the end of May the spokesperson for the provincial command, Emidio Mabunda, claimed that two of the detainees are the people who made the replicas while the other four are not members of the police but “state functionaries”.
He did not reveal for which state bodies they worked.
On Tuesday, at his weekly press briefing, the spokesperson for the General Command, Pedro Cossa, contradicted Mabunda, and gave the names and ranks of four police officers involved. One was Calisto (surname not given), who is an inspector and head of the local brigade of the Criminal Investigation Police (PIC). The others are chief inspector Faustino Artur, sub-inspector Victor Luis Arrone, and sergeant Tadeu Gaspar.
Also under arrest are Elias Matusse, of the Maputo Provincial Directorate of Land, Environment and Rural Development, and the two makers of the replica horns, Zefanias Aurelio and John Chauque. This brings the number of detentions to seven, rather than the six mentioned by Mabunda.
Cossa said there could be no justification for the involvement of police officers in such a crime. “The police force cannot be stained with this kind of action”, he exclaimed. “They have dirtied the entire force”.
Cossa guaranteed that security on the warehouse where the rest of the horns and the ivory are stored has been stepped up.
Naturally, he declined to reveal the whereabouts of this warehouse.
Environmental activists have been calling for the incineration of the horns and the ivory, precisely to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. The police, however, say they do not have any authorization to destroy the material.