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Airport staff suspects in Sh130m ivory probe

NAIROBI, Kenya, May 6 – Police are investigating possible collusion of airport officials in the bid to ship 1.4 tonnes of ivory valued at Sh130m through the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Thursday night.

The 115 tusks which were sealed in metal boxes and smeared with pepper were abandoned at the import cargo section by people who were trying to ship the cargo to Lagos, Nigeria.

Deputy Airport Police Commandant Eunice Kihiko told journalists they suspect there was collusion between owners of the cargo and officials at the airport because the cargo had no clearing documents.

"We highly suspect this is a major syndicate and collusion between clearing agents here at the airport.  The fact that this cargo was found at the import section and not export section is enough to show that something unusual was being done here," she said.

"We have not arrested any suspect but I can assure you we will get them. We will not spare anyone, they have killed many elephants and we cannot allow such business to be carried here," she added when displaying the tusks to journalists at the JKIA on Friday morning.

Each carton was labelled as purportedly having originated from the Embassy of the Republic of Papua, New Guinea located off State House Road in Nairobi and the Embassy of the Kingdom of Brunei located on Spring Valley Road here in Nairobi.

Police told journalists they will contact the Foreign Affairs Ministry to confirm the authenticity of the labelled embassies, amid fears they may be non-existent in the capital Nairobi.

The airport\’s CID chief Joseph Ngisa said: "You can see they have labelled it to look like the ivory tusks were being transported from two embassies here in Nairobi, but we highly think that this is just a way of concealing the truth."

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"We will be contacting the Foreign Affairs Ministry to get the truth, but from our preliminary investigation, these are people who thought they will evade thorough security checks and that is why they labelled it this way," he said.

The consignee was listed as Roadside Ventures Ltd, No 3 Awonyi Clemo Street, Off Ososlo Way, Ajayo Estate, Lagos Nigeria.

"Going by the details on these boxes, the consignment was destined for Lagos, Nigeria, but more details will emerge in the course of the investigation," Mr Ngisa explained.

And added: "You can see they are very cunning people, they have smeared the ivory tusks with pepper to keep away police sniffer dogs during security checks."

"Since we have 115 pieces, it means about 57 elephants were killed but we are however not sure if the elephants were killed here in Kenya or from neighbouring countries."

Thursday night\’s seizure of the ivory is the second largest in the country in the recent past.

In August last year, police at the JKIA seized two tonnes of raw ivory and five rhino horns which were bound for Malaysia.

Officials said at the time that the ivory had been obtained from some 150 elephants likely collected over a period of two decades.

It is estimated that Kenya has an elephant population of 35,000.

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