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Kabila, Kibaki meet over smuggled gold

By | Published Fri, March 4th 2011 at 00:00, Updated Fri, March 4th 2011 at 00:00 GMT +3

By Cyrus Ombati

DRC President Joseph Kabila flew in for emergency talks with President Kibaki over huge consignments of gold stolen and smuggled into Kenya from his country by a cartel.

The seriousness the two leaders attached to the problem was discernible from the fact the presidents immediately set up a joint investigative team to probe the gold smuggling syndicate between the two countries. Sources in security circles revealed at the centre of discussions was loss of gold valued at Sh10 billion, whose entry into Kenya was linked to execution of a Kenya Revenue Authority official assigned investigations into the smuggling activities on February 26.

The gold in question — believed to have been smuggled into Kenya — weighed 2.5 tons.

The gold is associated with death, not only because KRA’s Assistant Commissioner Joseph Cheptarus was shot while preparing an investigative report on its movement, but also because they are mined from banned excavation sites.

Kabila banned mining in North and South Kivu last September because the precious stones are the lifeline of guerrilla activities in DRC.

Kabila landed in Nairobi as Shapely Barret and Company Law Firm coincidentally released a letter it wrote to the Congolese President revealing details of one stolen gold consignment.

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It emerged Kenya is at the centre of the multi-billion shilling gold smuggling ring, spanning several countries.

Moving the consignment is not the common man’s business. It is the work of a powerful and well-connected cartel, which probably enjoys the support of sections of the security organs.

Government sources said Kabila travelled to Nairobi to seek help from Kibaki in tracing the gold haul. A second consignment of 475 ingots, valued at Sh1.6 billion was also said to have been stolen late last year from a warehouse in Kenya and then spirited to the DRC.

President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga with Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila at Harambee House Thursday. Kabila flew in to seek Kibaki's help in stemming smuggling of gold from DRC to Kenya.

One senior policeman close to the investigations told The Standard the players in the smuggling ring include "top boys" in Government. "Please don’t get me sacked because this is a trade that involves top boys in this Government and others outside," pleaded the officer.

It was clear he feared he might easily be knocked off the way Cheptarus was at 1:15am outside his gate, as he prepared to get into his house.

The high-ranking officer refused to comment further when asked whether the "top boys" were also involved in the theft of the two consignments.

Investigations kick off

Attention to the killer ring was drawn by the way Cheptarus, who was in charge of investigations and enforcement at KRA, was killed.

Though his workmates and police investigators, on condition of anonymity, have linked his murder to gold smuggling, Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere and KRA boss Michael Waweru dismiss the theory as speculation arguing investigations are on.
Cheptarus was in charge of a sub-section called Business Intelligence and had been asked to investigate illegal gold imports from DRC.

He was given the assignment following a meeting between Congolese ministers and Kibaki.

Presidential Press Service reported the discussions between Kabila and Kibaki centred on regional and sub-regional issues, including security and bilateral co-operation.

In Nairobi, three senior police officers told The Standard the syndicate could not have operated without the involvement of highly placed State operatives. The precious stone is usually brought in through airports and on road while in dust form before it is smelted and later repackaged then flown out to Europe and the United States.

Headed for the US

It is reported that KRA antennae was raised when last December more than 475 ingots of gold valued at Sh1.6 billion was ‘stolen’ from a warehouse in the city, and later found its way to the DRC in last December.

Lawyers acting for the buyers of the Sh1.6 billion gold haul told The Standard it was headed for US and was to be bought by a US national Mukaila Aderemi "Mickey" Lawal when it disappeared from Nairobi. The consignment was later traced to Goma, Congo.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga also attended the Kibaki-Kabila meeting. The joint investigating team will work closely with the teams in the two countries that had begun probing illegal trading in gold.

Iteere and Criminal Investigations Director Francis Muhoro, who will lead the probe, also attended the Harambee House meeting.

Also present was Internal Security Minister George Saitoti and Head of Public Service Francis Muthaura.
Kabila’s visit came weeks after his two ministers — the Minister for Regional Co-operation, Raymond Tshibanda, and the Minister for Mines, Martin Kabwelulu — met Kibaki in Nairobi to request Kenyan authorities to arrest the culprits, intercept the Sh8 billion haul and surrender it to Kinshasa if found.

Yesterday, a lawyer representing a US national who wanted to buy the Sh1.6 billion gold said his client was not involved in the Sh8 billion haul said to have been stolen Congo.

"As far as I am concerned, my client is not behind the 2.5 tons of gold that is said to have been stolen about eight months ago … My concern is about the status of my clients who are being detained in Congo," said lawyer, Punit Vadgama.

In the case involving Lawal, the 50-year-old company executive had earlier on in January visited Nairobi and viewed the commodity in a warehouse said to have been at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

In Police hands

Lawal, who was detained along with fellow Houstonian Carlos St Mary and two other businessmen on February 3, in Goma, had arrived ready to fly with the commodity when Congolese intelligence police arrested them and the flight crew.

They had with them $7 million in cash and the gold bars. The kingpin of the scam is a man known only as ‘Malonga’, who took the businessmen in circles, until they ended up in the hands of DRC police.

It is, however, not clear where the consignment of gold they had bought is, and over which their lawyer says they were double-crossed.

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