Matiangi: Seized contraband sugar contain mercury, copper

Interior CS Fred Matiang'i and Deputy Public Health Commissioner Wanyama Musiambo address the media on the status of the contraband sugar. [David Njaaga, Standard]

A Government Chemist report has shown part of recently seized consignment of contraband sugar contains mercury and copper.

Interior Cabinet Secretar Fred Matiangi said analysis of the sugar had found out it is unfit for human consumption yet it was seized from the markets.

“It is shocking that some of this sugar has been found to contain particles of mercury and copper, which is very dangerous to our lives,” he said.

Matiangi at the same time warned unnamed senior people against calling or threatening the team behind the crackdown on contraband goods in the country.

“If you want to call someone to help or stop the seizure of this illegal goods call the president. Don’t call police or me in the operation. It doesn’t matter how far high you are or which political side you are,” he said without elaborating who had been calling to intimidate the officers.

He vowed to intensify the war against illicit trade saying millions of lives were at risk.

“I am shocked personally over what we’re doing to our country. Its mind boggling,” Matiangi said at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) headquarters where the report was released.

The CS also paraded some 1,365 bags of contraband sugar that was seized from a warehouse in Ruiru. Another batch of the goods had been seized in Eastleigh and Industrial Area in Nairobi.

Machines used to package and repackage the illegally imported sugar were also impounded in the police raids.

Some of the contraband sugar found hidden in warehouses in Eastleigh, Ruiru and Industrial Area in Nairobi. [David Njaaga, Standard]

Preliminary findings had shown the sugar was imported using a licensed sugar factory based in Western Kenya and those behind it claim it was genuine. They had Kenya Bureau of Standard stickers as an indication of certification for sale in the country.

Police investigations had shown the current stickers are printed on an ordinary label paper without any security features making it easier for duplicating them.

The stickers do not have any anti copy features as required. This makes counterfeiting them very easy by using simple office or home copier machines.

“The ISM stamps do not have any visible or invisible (Overt and Covert) security features in them. This makes it very difficult to differentiate between the original stickers and duplicated ones even for the Kebs officials.”

Matiangi said most of the seized products are injurious to the health of people.

“We ain’t seen anything. It’s going to be rough. It is hurting the economy. It’s hurting our health and it would not matter who you are because we are determined to end this”

Matiangi said the operation has the backing of President Uhuru Kenyatta in the ongoing war against illicit trade, which he said was hurting the economy due to tax evasion.

“We have firm instructions from the President to proceed without fear, without favour. We are losing revenue because of this nonsense,” he said.

He also said public servants manning major entry points to be accountable over increased seizure of contraband goods in the country.

Those found culpable for the entry of the goods worth millions of shillings will be sacked and charged in courts. The employees include those from Kebs, Kenya Revenue Authority, Anti Counterfeit Agency and police.

DCI George Kinoti and deputy head of public service Wanyama Musiambo were present and said the influx of goods give an indication of laxity or complicity in their entry.

“We have workers at these entry points. They have to be accountable. They will tell us how and why they came into the country,” said Matiangi.

The CS said they had launched a thorough probe into the incidents with an aim of sealing the loopholes and getting those behind them.

Apart from sugar, the team behind the operation has seized cooking oil and construction materials worth millions of shillings.

Some of the sugar is intended for industrial purposes and had been labeled not fit for direct human consumption but was being repackaged and sold to unsuspecting buyers.

A special multi agency team has been set up to specifically deal with the menace after it emerged the counterfeit goods were robbing Kenyans of millions of shillings and jobs.

There are claims that some staff at the government agencies are tipping off businessmen involved in the production and sale of contraband and counterfeit goods.

Earlier this month, the agencies were involved in the dumping of 400 tonnes of contraband sugar valued at Sh38 million into Indian Ocean. The sugar, which was in 16 containers, had been declared as machine parts, when it was seized in February 2016.

Several counterfeit goods have been seized in the past months in operations.

Officials from the National Campaign Against Drug Abuse, the National Environment Management Authority, the National Police Service, KRA, anti-counterfeit agency and Kebs have over the past two months been cracking down on illicit trade and contraband in a campaign against tax evasion and smuggling. 

Top managers at Kebs have been grilled by police over rise of contraband goods in the country. The file on the probe will be taken to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for direction.

Other sources said the detectives intend to talk to officials at KRA as part of the wider probe into the issue.