By Kamore Maina
Police investigations into the Sh570 million ivory consignment seized in Thailand on May 21 reveal it originated from Mozambique and Kenya was used as a transit point.
The investigations show the cargo entered Kenya through the Malaba border post and traveled more than 700km by road, passing major police roadblocks undetected, to Mombasa from where it was exported.
Corrupt Immigration, KRA and police officers manning the roadblocks, border posts and lack of scanning machines helped the criminals move their cargo with ease.
The KRA communications department, through Hannah Gakuo, acknowledged that there are no scanners at Kenya's border checkpoints, which are also porous and make it easy to smuggle goods without using the right entry and departure points.
Detectives from the CID Anti-Money Laundering Unit who are behind the investigations have earmarked prime properties valued at more than Sh300 million for confiscation, owned by Mombasa tycoon Abdurahman Mohammed Sheikh and his sons, who have been charged in court over the ivory.
Sheikh and his sons Sheikh Abdulrahman and Mahmoud Sheikh were arrested by police on June 4 on suspicion that they were involved in the illicit ivory trade.
State Counsel Alexander Muteti told a Mombasa court that the three are suspected to have been smuggling ivory from Tanzania through the Lunga Lunga border point to Asia.
Investigators have also obtained court orders to freeze the tycoon’s accounts on suspicion that the money in them is the proceeds of crime.
Police have already impounded five top-of-the-range vehicles belonging to the suspects and are in the process of seizing prime plots, beach houses and a petrol station in Changamwe.
The three have however denied that their wealth is the proceeds of crime and claimed that they earned their money through tenders awarded by the Kenya Ports Authority, sale of fuel and land brokerage.
Yesterday, CID chief Ndegwa Muhoro said investigations had been spread to Thailand.
Forensic investigators will take DNA samples to establish the origin of the ivory.
Ndegwa blamed the lack of scanners at the border for the ivory’s entry undetected at Malaba.
Investigations revealed that the criminals concealed the ivory as pineapples at the Malaba border point.
Customs officials at the border were reluctant to offload three tonnes of pineapples for a thorough check, without scanning machines, a tedious exercise.
Criminals take advantage of these loopholes to sneak in contraband, investigators said.
Interior and Co-ordination Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery did not respond to our calls.
An email to ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka requesting details on what Interior was doing over the lack of the key security equipment at the border had yet to be responded by the time we went to press.
At the Mombasa port, where the same consignment left for Singapore, the ivory was concealed as tea and, again, corrupt KRA officials and port workers colluded to have the contraband leave undetected.
Police are still holding 14 suspects, among them KRA staff. They suspects include Immigration staff, workers at a godown in Nyali where the ivory is said to have been stored and workers of Siginon Freighters, a cargo logistics services company.