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Drug lord ferried cocaine in UN planes

By Simon Masaba

Added 18th June 2017 12:00 AM

Police have since seized reagents which were imported in the name of the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo

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Police officers loading equipment and ingredients used in the production of drugs from Balinda in Wakiso district.

Police have since seized reagents which were imported in the name of the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Ismail Ongarambe Balinda, the Ugandan who was tracked by American operatives over drug trafficking leading to his arrest in Kenya, used the UN base in Entebbe as a cover.

Detectives at the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) revealed that Balinda would transport his parcels containing drugs disguised as luggage for UN staff.

The detectives working with the Aviation Police have since seized reagents which were imported in the name of the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) logistics base in Entebbe, but later traced to Balinda.

It has emerged that by the time of Balinda’s arrest in Kenya, he had allegedly placed his order for the reagents from an Indian pharmaceutical company. Balinda was using the reagents to manufacture heroin and cocaine.

 The deputy CID chief, Joseph Obwona, told New Vision that they had seized consignments (two drums) of chemicals allegedly used in the manufacture of the narcotic drugs.

However, Obwona was cagey on details, but referred New Vision to the CID Anti-Narcotics boss, Tinka Zarugaba.

Zarugaba confirmed that the seized reagents were kept at the Uganda Revenue Authority, customs office at Entebbe airport. He also stated that the consignment belonged to Balinda, 35.

“The consignments bear Balinda’s telephone numbe (which we have proved) and MONUSCO as the recipient,” Zarugaba said.

However, Zarugaba said MONUSCO had officially disassociated itself from the package when contacted by the Police last week.

Impeccable sources said the UN planes are privileged and have a safe passage at most airports worldwide, with its officials not subjected to routine and thorough checks like other travellers at various airports.

It is not clear whether Balinda impersonated UN officials or he was working with some of them to be able to import his drugs and reagents with the ease he was doing it.

It is for this reason that officials at the MONUSCO Entebbe office are in the spotlight and sources revealed that they have been put under surveillance. The source added that operatives want to ascertain whether any of the MONUSCO staff was aiding Balinda’s discreet imports.

According to their website, MONUSCO have liaison offices in Kampala and are known for protecting civilians and consolidating peace in the DR Congo.

According to CID detectives privy to the investigations, to manufacture the ‘best’ cocaine or heroin, one needs eight top ingredients.

They are; Tulione, acetic acid, mercury, caustic soda, hydrochloric acid, glacial acetic acid, acetone and ephedrine. CID spokesperson Vincent Sekate said the need for these ingredients prompted Balinda to send his Mexican accomplices to Brazil to purchase some of the rare ones, especially ephedrine, which is also used to make methamphetamine.

Balinda’s arrest last month followed a US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) investigation spanning three continents for many months.

DEA, which had been trailing Balinda’s Mexican accomplices, arrested them early this year in the US, before flying them to Nairobi, Kenya, to lure Balinda out of Uganda.

The US has no extradition treaties with more than 100 countries, including Uganda. Kenya has an extradition treaty with the US and was the ideal location from where to arrest Balinda.

However, through a mutual understanding from both governments (Uganda and US), Balinda’s home was searched and several suspects have been flown to the US.

Balinda charged

Zarugaba told New Vision that Balinda was charged in a New York court and sent on remand until August 31, 2017, “Balinda appeared in a New York court (early May) and was charged with conspiracy in trafficking heroine,” said Zarugaba via telephone.

However, it has also emerged that Balinda faces a series of charges back home, among them; construction of an illegal laboratory, money laundering and threatening violence.

Zarugaba said Balinda threatened people (names withheld) with a firearm and cases were reported at Entebbe Police Station.

“Whether tried and sentenced or deported, we shall also arraign him in our Ugandan courts over the aforementioned cases,” Zarugaba said.

Earlier, Sekate said Balinda had employed two Mexicans to build for him a drug laboratory at his home in Wakiso, which the Police raided last month and carried away tonnes of chemicals and equipment intended to establish a drug processing plant.

According to Sekate, Balinda had disguised himself as a poultry farmer. “They built and incorporated the laboratory in a poultry house-like structure,” he said.

Mexico has a long history of illicit drug trade. Until recently, international media was awash with the arrest of Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, commonly known as El- Chappo, a Mexican drug lord who headed the Sinaloa Cartel, a criminal organisation named after the Mexican Pacific coast in the state of Sinaloa, where it was formed.

According to the Police, last September, Balinda and his accomplices allegedly entered the US with 10kg of heroine. 

Subsequently, agents started trailing him. A kilogramme of heroin goes for $18,000 (about sh65m), while that of cocaine is valued at $50,000 (about sh181m) on the international market.

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