Contraband sugar worth Sh56 million and 64 containers of ethanol have been impounded at the port of Mombasa.
The Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations announced the seizure in a statement on Friday.
The containers of illegal sugar were stored in three Container Freight Stations (CFSs) – Auto Port, Focus and MCT in Mombasa County — after their interception. Those containing ethanol were said to be at the port.
KRA Commissioner-General John Njiraini, EACC Chief Executive Officer Halakhe Waqo and Director of CID Ndegwa Muhoro visited Auto Port jointly declaring that the cargo would be destroyed and not auctioned as has been the practice.
According to the officials, the containers had 17,600 bags of sugar, each weighing 50kg, with a value of Sh56 million.
They were declared as hardware material, whole lentils, photocopiers, office furniture, new shoes and dried grapes.
Accordingly, the cargo that could have earned the government more than Sh56 million in revenue was said to be in transit to neighbouring countries. The 64 containers of ethanol would have fetched Sh288 million in tax revenue.
'NOT BUSINESS AS USUAL'
“We want to send a very strong warning to the perpetrators of this illegal business that it will not be business as usual. We shall … henceforth destroy all illegal cargo and not auction it.
“The importers should not expect to benefit from this illicit trade as before, [when] they bought the same at auctions directly or through their agents”, said Mr Njiraini.
The KRA boss said that five brand-new Range Rover vehicles seized in November and December last year would also be destroyed as he noted that cargo is increasingly being diverted into the local market.
Friday’s seizure received immediate support from the parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries.
“Smuggling has been killing our economy. We wish to congratulate KRA and the other agencies for this interception which is long overdue and call on port authorities manning entry points to be vigilant,” said Mandera North MP Adan Mohamed Noor, a member of the committee.
“This is a job well done. The law enforcement should also be stricter on sugar barons who usually buy their way out in this lucrative business which is like the drugs business. Don’t be compromised and let us guard our country, our economy,” said Mr Noor.
He said East African states had strongly resolved to fight smuggling, adding that Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda will meet in Mombasa today to discuss strategies to tighten cargo tracking and interception systems.
“Kenya is working with our regional counterparts in the Northern Corridor to implement mechanisms aimed at curbing the diversion of cargo in transit. A meeting of ministers of finance and Commissioners’ General of Revenue authorities from Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda is taking place tomorrow (Saturday) to discuss ways of coordinated regional response towards the challenge of transit cargo diversion”, he said.
He said that in three months’ time, they expect to have in place a common electronic system for tracking cargo.
They are also introducing a law that would mandate cargo to be verified at the port of origin, not the destination. This would help authorities to pinpoint ports that export illegal cargo and blacklist them.
He said three new scanners had been deployed and one mobile scanner and two fixed scanners installed.
“The second phase of the technology programme will be integration of the system, establishing a central command place and linking the security headquarters, not localised verification like it is now”, he said.
Although he did not name the importers, Mr Njiraini said, “We know them all, we have full information”, adding that “our first focus is the clearing agents, importers and company directors”.
COST TO THE ECONOMY
Mr Waqo, who read the statement to the press, said illegal cargo had cost the country’s economy heavily and has to be dealt with decisively.
“Our farmers have been affected, our economy is suffering, and prices of locally produced commodities are bad. This is not a small issue and we shall pursue it to its logical end”, he said.
Mr Muhoro said customs fraudsters and their agents would be dealt with ruthlessly from now on as better and modern technologies are adopted to detect them.
“We shall from now on use a multi-agency approach including the national police to deal with them. Whoever is involved had better be warned that from now on, it will not be business as usual and they had better look for alternative legal businesses”.
Added the CID boss: “We have a country to protect, an economy to safeguard and our message to them is that we will go after the principals and not merely their agents.”
Mr Njiraini said that in collaboration with the National Environmental Management Authority, they would find a way to destroy cargo such as ethanol cost-effectively.
On December 22, 2015, the Kenya Revenue Authority impounded eight containers carrying contraband Brazilian sugar worth Sh20 million in at Container Freight Station in Mombasa.
Four of the 20-foot containers had been declared as handbags and belts while the other four had been declared as lubricants.