Cunning Chinese ivory smugglers unmasked (Tanzania)


The Citizen

Date Published
Dar es Salaam. Details of the three Chinese nationals who smuggled ivory worth over Sh820 million out of the country last month can be exclusively revealed today by The Citizen.
The suspects sneaked the haul through Julius Nyerere International Airport (JNIA), but were arrested in Zurich. Hu Yang, 33; Hao Wu, 21, and Qi Liu, 37, are believed to be part of a syndicate that specialises in smuggling ivory from East and Central Africa to China and other destinations in the Far East.
With the collusion of Tanzanian security personnel at JNIA, they smuggled out 262 kilogrammes of ivory stashed in eight suitcases on the night of July 5, arriving in Switzerland the following day.
They were arrested at Zurich International Airport with the Sh826 million haul and have since been charged and fined, The Citizen has learnt. Their whereabouts, however, are unclear.
Information pieced together from an ongoing investigation in Tanzania suggests that the Chinese could have been involved in the smuggling of ivory for at least four years.
One of them, Hu Yang, who holds multiple Chinese passports, has travelled frequently between Dar es Salaam and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Uganda, Zambia and Switzerland.
One of the suspects flew out of the country without a passport control on the day they carted off the ivory as security officers looked the other way.
Documents seen by The Citizen indicate that Hu holds two Chinese passports – Number G26706873 that expires in 2018, and E31732451, which expires in 2023.
His two accomplices have one passport each. Hao’s document has the Number T00699862, while the Number on Qi’s passport is E26374478.
Hu is the most travelled of the three, shuttling frequently between Dar es Salaam, Addis Ababa, Lusaka, Entebbe in Uganda, Dubai, Doha and Zurich.
Records show him travelling variously as a tourist, businessman or a returning resident of his destinations. In one instance, he identified himself as a “Huawei businessman in Kariakoo”. However, the reasons for some of the trips are not shown on his travel documents.
Investigations show that two days before the trio flew out on July 5, Hu had flown from JNIA to Entebbe, Uganda, aboard a Fastjet flight. His itinerary did not show how he came back to Dar es Salaam, but he would three days later team up with Qi and Hao for the trip to Switzerland through JNIA.
There are scanty travel details on Hao and Qi, but, according to the documents, Hao claimed before flying out to Zurich that he had lost his passport, but was allowed to leave Tanzania by “special clearance” from the authorities.
Qi, who identified himself as a businessman with Star Ways Group Limited based in Dar es Salaam, only travelled from Doha to Dar es Salaam on November 12, 2014 aboard a Qatar Airways flight.
Each of the three men gave different reasons for travelling to Switzerland, with Hu saying he was going there as a resident, Hao as a visitor and Qi for temporary employment.
Mr Gustav Babile, Tanzania’s Chief of Interpol National Central Bureau, confirmed to The Citizen last Wednesday that the trio had already been charged and fined.
Asked whether there were any plans to extradite them to Tanzania to help in investigations, he said their extradition would depend on proposals by Tanzanian law enforcers. “If there will be a need to extradite them, Interpol Tanzania will work with their counterparts to bring them to the country,” Mr Babile said when contacted by telephone.
The Citizen reported exclusively last Friday how it took only 10 minutes – between 7.30pm and 7.40pm for Hu, Hao and Qi to cart the ivory through JNIA.
CCTV footage show how, working in collusion with two Tanzania People’s Defence Forces (TPDF) corporals assigned to Tanzania Airports Authority (TAA) to oversee security inspection at the airport, the Chinese evaded detection and boarded the plane bound for Switzerland with the ivory.
Initial investigations have confirmed that there was a serious breach of security at the country’s largest and busiest airport, with the soldiers on duty looking the other way as the foreigners smuggled the ivory past the state-of-the-art detectors.
The officer in charge of the screening facility, who had not been expected on duty, arrived a few minutes before the Chinese men appeared with their cargo. He was shown constantly on his mobile phone and left immediately after they boarded their flight.
Surprisingly, according to sources privy to JNIA operations, sniffer dogs used to detect contraband cargo on international flights were not at the airport on that particular night.
Officials from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism were also not at their duty stations as would be normal.
The absence of the sniffer dogs undermines a recent joint exercise by the Tanzania’s Wildlife Division and the WWF to train special dogs to detect ivory hidden in vehicles, buildings and luggage. The dogs graduated recently and are meant to disrupt the flow of illegal ivory smuggled to markets abroad.
The latest ivory smuggling scandal at the JNIA appears to follow a template from the July 2013 case when two Tanzanian socialites were said to have smuggled through the airport several huge travel bags containing drugs.
Agnes Gerald, alias Masogange, 25, and 24-year-old Melisa Edward were later caught in Johannesburg with 180 kilogrammes of methamphetamine, a drug-making substance, worth about Sh7 billion.
Several people were suspended to pave the way for investigations, whose findings have yet to be made public.
After a two-month stint in South African jails, a court found Masogange guilty and fined her 15,000 rand (about Sh2.5 million), while Ms Edward was set free for lack of evidence.