Airport staff charged to court over Ivory smuggling in Tanzania

By Rosina John

Dar es Salaam. Four security officers at Julius Nyerere International Airport (JNIA) were yesterday charged with aiding the recent smuggling out of ivory worth hundreds of millions of shillings.

The four, including two Tanzania People’s Defence Forces (TPDF) soldiers, were implicated in the syndicate that sneaked 265 kilogrammes of ivory through JNIA on July 5.

Those who appeared before the Kisutu Resident Magistrate’s Court included TPDF soldiers Salum Mnyonesi and Albadil Mshana, who were seconded to JNIA.

They were charged along with Tanzania Airports Authority (TAA) security officers Clemence Mbaruck and Emmanuel Nsanganiye.

The accused faced four counts of conspiracy, leading organised crime, unlawful dealing in trophies and abuse of position, contrary to Section 57(1) and 60 (2) of the Economic and Organized Crime Control Act, and sections 82(1) and 84 (1) of the Wildlife Conservation Act Number 5 of 2009.

They appeared before Magistrate Huruma Shahidi, but were not required to enter a plea as the court does not have jurisdiction over the case. They were remanded until September 28 when the case will be mentioned. State Attorneys Faraja Nchimbi and Salim Msemwa told Mr Shahidi that on July 5 this year at JNIA, the accused conspired with other persons not before the court to facilitate the smuggling of ivory.

The prosecution also alleged that on diverse dates between July 2 and July 6, this year, at JNIA, the accused being public officials working with TAA as security officers, went contrary to their duty requirements and intentionally furthered the intentions of a criminal racket.

They allegedly facilitated the smuggling out of 150 kilogrammes of elephant tusks, 21 lion teeth and 35 lion claws, all valued at $127,334 (Sh267.4 million).

The court heard that the contraband was exported without an export certificate or a Cites permit from the Wildlife Department. Cites is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

After reading the charges, the prosecution told the court that investigations into the case were still going on.

The smuggling of the ivory made international headlines last month after three Chinese nationals, Hu Yang, 33; Hao Wu, 21, and Qi Liu, 37, were arrested soon after arriving in Zurich, Switzerland, from Dar es Salaam en route to Beijing, China. The trio arrived with tusks concealed in 14 suitcases.

Reports that the haul originated from JNIA led to a local investigation which culminated in the charging of the four security personnel.

Swiss authorities said the seized ivory was worth $400,000 (Sh820 million). They intercepted the cargo at Zurich International Airport on July 6 this year.

The Chinese suspects were later set free and allowed to leave Switzerland for China without the ivory that was forfeited to the customs authorities there.

The decision not to charge the Chinese was roundly criticised by conservationists around the world.

The Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Mr Lazaro Nyalandu, has indicated that Tanzania may seek their extradition to help in the investigation.

Information pieced together from the investigation in Tanzania suggested that the Chinese could have been involved in the smuggling of ivory from Tanzania for at least four years. One of the suspects flew out of the country without a passport on the day they carted off the ivory, according to documents seen by The Citizen.

Initial investigations have confirmed that there was a serious security breach at the country’s largest and busiest airport that allowed the Chinese to smuggle the ivory haul past state-of-the-art detectors.

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