Sunday, May 23, 2010

Korean trader held over ivory haul

KWS officers guard the truck which was loaded with sandalwood and elephant tusks. The lorry was intercepted on Thika Road at the weekend and taken to Kasarani police station. A Korean is being held in connection with the haul. Photo/WILLIAM OERI

KWS officers guard the truck which was loaded with sandalwood and elephant tusks. The lorry was intercepted on Thika Road at the weekend and taken to Kasarani police station. A Korean is being held in connection with the haul. Photo/WILLIAM OERI 

By FRED MUKINDA

A Korean who operates gambling businesses in Nairobi is in police custody in connection with illegal ivory trade.

He was arrested hours after police impounded a lorry ferrying 48 elephant tusks and seven tonnes of sandalwood.

The lorry’s driver and a loader are also locked up at Kasarani Police station. The consignment in two containers was seized by Administration Police officers on Thika Road at around 6pm on Saturday.

Investigators suspect the tusks originated from Kenya but the driver had documents showing they were packed in Uganda and smuggled through the Busia border point.

“The document purports they were from Uganda but I think it’s a fake. We suspect these goods are from Kenya,” said Kasarani police boss Leonard Omolo.

The document described the load as “medical herbs.” An officer close to the investigation, who requested not to be named, said the Korean had claimed he acquired the tusks from local dealers.

The suspect operates casinos in Hurlingham and his passport showed he had travelled out of the country and returned three days ago.

The owner of the lorry had presented himself to police, seeking to have his truck released arguing he had only hired it out and he was not involved in the illegal business.

His report helped police track down the Korean who was arrested in Kilimani area. Besides elephant tusks, harvesting and trade of sandalwood, valued for its medicinal value, are also banned because the tree is listed as endangered.

The arrest, barely three weeks after two tonnes of ivory tusks were seized in Vietnam, with customs authorities there saying they originated from Kenya.

The haul was destined for China, but police are yet to establish where the most recent load was headed. A Kenya Wildlife Service official, Mr Frank Keshe, estimated the load’s worth as more than Sh8 million in the black market.

The tusks were wrapped in metallic foils, a technique used by smugglers to make it difficult for government officials to detect them when being screened at international entry points.

Those seized in Vietnam were hidden in 400 plastic sacks and covered with dry seaweed, according to the VNExpress online news site, citing the customs department.

It said the tusks were found in two containers at the northern port of Haiphong. There is a booming black market in African ivory linked to Asian crime syndicates, experts and delegates said in March at a UN wildlife trade meeting.

Ivory trade has been banned since 1989, with the exception of a few one-time sales, but there has been a dramatic surge in illegal trafficking since 2005.

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