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6 grilled in gold smuggling racket

NAIROBI, Kenya March 4 – Six prime suspects believed to be key players in the Sh8 billion ($96.3 million) gold smuggling syndicate have recorded statements with the police in a high-level investigation that is being undertaken jointly with officials from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Capital News has reliably established that the detectives carrying out the probe have zeroed in on four influential Kenyan businessmen with strong ties to high powered government officials.

The detectives have also taken statements from two Congolese traders based in Nairobi who are believed to have facilitated the movement of the 2.5 tonnes of gold from Congo.

"Those who have so far recorded statements are considered key players. Our officers are getting very crucial information from them," a senior police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said.

The gold is said to have been smuggled from illegal minefields in the DRC and mysteriously disappeared at the JKIA, before Kenya Revenue Authority officials even knew what had been shipped in.

It is believed officials in the DRC blew the cover after they began tracing the suspicious movement of the precious cargo only to learn that it could not be traced.

The gold is said to have left Kenya to somewhere in Europe through South Africa.

Capital News has also established two of the Kenyan businessmen are known to deal in large scale petroleum imports and exports.

One detective privy to the sensitive investigation further revealed that officers undertaking the probe were trying to reach out to an influential businesswoman said to have worked closely with the gold smugglers.

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Officials familiar with the probe further revealed that some of the suspects questioned or those yet to be questioned are people who, by virtue of their positions, helped the real smugglers get through to their destination.

"Both the suspects and those who helped them are culprits but at the moment we are interested to know who played what role, at what stage and how. We are not talking about arrests at this stage because that is the last thing," our source said and added that even customs officials both at the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport would be questioned.

The source said the team investigating the gold syndicate had lined up more than 20 officials to be questioned in connection with the mysterious disappearance of the precious metal.

Those to be questioned also include a senior police officer holding the rank of Deputy Commissioner who is also said to have aided the movement of the gold that has caused a diplomatic ripple between Kenya and the DRC, forcing President Joseph Kabila to fly to Nairobi for talks with President Mwai Kibaki.

"It is a complex investigation but the officers undertaking it are under firm instructions not to spare anyone, regardless of his or her rank in government or elsewhere in the private sector," our source added.

Some of the detectives undertaking the probe are however, said to be worried about their security after a senior Assistant Commissioner at the KRA the late Joseph Cheptarus was shot dead last weekend, in a killing that detectives have now linked to the same probe.

On Friday, Internal Security Minister Professor George Saitoti confirmed at a media conference that several suspects had been questioned but he did not divulge details about the ongoing probe.

"I can tell you the investigation has gone very far.  First of all, some people have been interrogated and more are going to be investigated," he said without elaborating.

He said a joint team of investigators would travel to Zaire, Dubai and South Africa to seek more information about how the $96.3 million worth of gold disappeared.

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"Indeed, the two teams are very serious on this matter," he added when issuing a joint communiqué with DRC\’s Minister for Regional and International Development Raymond Tshibanda and his Mines counterpart Martin Kabwelulu.

The two are among a high powered delegation that jetted into the country on Thursday accompanying President Kabila who held talks with President Kibaki at Harambee House twice, before jetting out on Friday.

"The two Heads of State received a preliminary report of the joint investigation team of officials from both countries that has been working on tracing a significant amount of gold that is suspected to have been smuggled out of the DRC," Prof Saitoti said.

"They instructed police authorities in both countries to share information on suspected persons as well as registered dealers in minerals in the two countries," he added.

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