Suspect arrested after sh197 million ivory seized at Mombasa port
A suspect has been arrested following the seizure of 1.97 tonnes of ivory valued at Sh197 million at the Port of Mombasa.
Detectives from Interpol and other agencies apprehended Robert Gathua based on information in an intelligence report.
Port DCIO Juliana Muthini said he was being held at Port police station and will be taken to court amid a search for other suspects.
“This is a serious offence. We are working round the clock to ensure the Port is safe,” she said.
Senior Kenya Revenue Authority officials are being investigated in connection to the Tuesday seizure.
The multi-agency team launched the probe in a crackdown on customs officials and clearing agents who might have colluded to sneak out two containers containing the trophies.
The two tonnes of smuggled ivory were impounded after a shipment en route to Cambodia was recalled, following intelligence that it contained illegal cargo.
David Yego, Kenya Revenue Authority’s commissioner for investigations, said on Wednesday that the ivory had been hidden in hollow wooden planks and declared as ceramics.
Authorities in Singapore returned the shipment to Mombasa after Kenya raised the alarm.
Yego expressed concerns that the smugglers had been able to bypass new security measures designed to stop narcotics and ivory smuggling at the port.
“The manner in which the tusks were concealed causes a concern to us, as to the manner in which ivory traffickers are adapting new tactics to avoid detection at ports, but we are up to the task,” Yego told journalists in Mombasa.
Many of the 334 pieces of ivory had red ink marks that Yego said might indicate they were police evidence exhibits. Kenya made several high-profile ivory seizures in 2013 and 2014, and the ivory is usually securely stored to be used as evidence.
Elephant poaching across Africa peaked in 2011 but remains “unacceptably high”, according to the Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants Programme (MIKE), which is supported by the Convention on International Trade in Endangers Species (CITES).
Well-armed criminal gangs kill elephants for tusks and rhinos for their horns, and the parts are often shipped to Asia for use in ornaments and medicines.
In 2013, the government imposed stiffer penalties – longer jail terms and bigger fines – on anyone convicted of poaching or trafficking in wildlife trophies, saying poaching was harming tourism, a major foreign exchange earner.
In February, the government replaced senior managers at the port to try to tackle drug and ivory smuggling.