A well-knit syndicate is destroying wildlife and involving some of the officers at the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), police and the army. GERALD TENYWA writes.
It played out like a movie scene. He crafted two fake rhino horns, which were exchanged for genuine ones recovered from suspected traffickers at Entebbe International Airport in May last year.
A few days later, he cried foul when he walked away empty-handed following a lucrative deal that fetched billions of shillings. His colleagues in the Police, army and UWA shared the money after selling the two genuine rhino horns.
They worked with intelligence officers in the army to arrest the two buyers of the horns. That was not all; they stole the rhino horns again.
This was a statement from one of the two informers working with UWA. It was captured in a document entitled, Report on Alleged Ivory and Rhino Horn Theft, compiled by the UWA on September 22 last year.
“Some UWA staff are very influential in offering support to smooth execution of illegal dealings in wildlife products,” stated the report on the ivory syndicate.
According to one of the officials on UWA’s probe team who spoke to Saturday Vision on condition of anonymity, “the ivory mafia is sweeping UWA out of control and the lives of elephants are at stake.”
Rhino horns expose ivory scam
On May 13 last year, the customs department of Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) landed on what could be the biggest recovery of rhino horns from suspected traffickers.
They impounded three boxes containing 35 horns and 22 elephant tusks at Entebbe International Airport. What should have followed was to convict the wildlife traffickers.
However, some of the officials within the Aviation Police at Entebbe worked with some officials of UWA’s law enforcement unit and sold two of the rhino horns. They also worked with some officials of the Special Investigations Directorate at Kireka to arrest buyers of the rhino horns.
A kilogramme of ivory on the black market goes for $97,000 (sh270m) and a dagger (luxurious knife) with a handle of rhino horn materials costs up to $14,000 (sh37m).
Rhino horn theft
After being cheated of the mouthwatering rhino horns and elephant ivory deals, the mistrust blew the UWA operatives into two camps.
Both camps worked with different Policemen at Old Kampala Police and Aviation Police, Entebbe. The informer (who crafted the fake rhino horns) was subsequently arrested in a botched ivory deal at Old Kampala, according to UWA’s internal probe report.
He later spilled the beans about the sale of rhino horns and stealing of ivory stockpiles from UWA’s armoury or strong room.
The top leadership at UWA interacted in camera with the informer who had now turned into a whistleblower, according to UWA’s report. UWA sent a team together with the informer to Entebbe to verify the alleged exchange of the rhino horns with fake ones.
This is contained in a 10-page report handed over to UWA’s executive director, Dr. Andrew Seguya, on September 22 last year.
It covered the illegal actions of different players from the informers to UPDF officers in charge of UWA’s law enforcement unit and some Policemen at Old Kampala and Entebbe.
Stealing from UWA’s strong room
After getting duplicated keys from Platinum House in Kiyembe in Kampala, the team (ivory thieves) headed for UWA’s stores at midnight.
The rangers at the gate, according to the informer’s statement, were aware of the plan to steal ivory from UWA’s strong room.
“We opened the stores at midnight after he (one of the UPDF officers at UWA) communicated to the rangers at the gate. The rangers opened the gate for us and we took 260kg of ivory to the car, Noah new model (registration number plate withheld).”
Policemen implicated According to UWA’s report, messages that were obtained from the informer’s phone, implicated high-ranking members of UWA’s law enforcement unit.
Others implicated included officials of the Aviation Police, Entebbe and Old Kampala Police Station. The report concludes that lack of action against concerning intelligence information could have led to theft of ivory from UWA’s strong room (armoury).
“The security information was taken lightly and not acted upon hence the theft of ivory from the strong room,” stated the report.
The report added that the security of guns in the strong room was also at stake.
Entebbe police delays ivory, pangolin case
December 31, 2013: UPDF officer Jacob Twikiriize (R) and Uganda Wildlife Authority Chief Area Conservation Manager Charles Tumwesigye interrogating Toure Keba, a Congolese national intecepted with 150 Kgs of Pangolin scales at UWA offices in Kampala. (Credit: Kennedy Oryema)
A week after wildlife officials impounded 791kg of ivory and 2,029kg of pangolin scales, details have emerged that the cargo was escorted by armed personnel to Entebbe International Airport.
Sources say attempts were made to bribe Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) officials at Entebbe to turn a blind eye to the cargo, which was destined for the Netherlands. Two of the officials refused to take the bribe and turned the tables against their colleagues, who had connived with the traffickers.
The cargo was cleared as “telecommunication equipment” from MTN that was being shipped to the Netherlands for repair, according to documents obtained by Saturday Vision.
When contacted about the matter, MTN officials in Kampala distanced themselves from the deal.
“I do not know anything about this case and we have not been approached by the Police or UWA,” said Anthony Katamba, MTN’s corporate affairs manager.
“MTN is a busy telephone company. We have no time for exporting ivory. We do not even know how much it costs. It should be obvious to you that somebody is using our name to deal in ivory.”
Asked why the suspects are delaying to appear in court, the commandant of Aviation Police, Lodovick Awita, said he was in Moroto and referred Saturday Vision to the officers investigating the case for a comment.
The officer in charge of criminal investigations at Entebbe, Makaris Erico, noted that he needed time to consult his colleagues, saying he would get back to the writer in 10 minutes.
However, he did not call back or pick repeated phone calls on his known cellphone.
According to Aviation Police at Entebbe, a cargo handler and clearing agent were arrested immediately after the deal was uncovered.
The driver of the truck that delivered the cargo, according to sources, took the team of wildlife officials and the Police to the house in Bunamwaya, Wakiso district, where the ivory and pangolin scales were loaded.
A weighing scale, ivory moulding machine and pangolin scales were recovered.
“The suspect in whose house evidence was recovered would be a prime suspect,” a source said, adding: “I do not see why they do not charge the suspects. This is a case where somebody was caught red-handed.”
According to sources, this could end up like many high-profile cases of wildlife crimes that have been reported to Police, but charges have never been brought against the suspects.
(Adopted from Saturday Vision dated January 31, 2015)
UWA ivory scandal sucks in army, police