Dar es Salaam — Anti-narcotics squad officers on an operation to net suspected drug dealers ended up busting a fake gold syndicate, seizing over 180kg of "gold nuggets" that criminals use to defraud foreigners of hundreds of millions of shillings.
Officers of the Drug Control and Enforcement Authority (DCEA) were acting on a tip-off indicating that drugs were being processed at a house in Kijitonyama when they raided the apartment two weeks ago and discovered huge quantities of the supposedly precious metals including gold.
There have been reports of many foreigner being swindled hundreds of millions of shillings by a well-functioning cabal in the city but the police have not been able to expose the scam that has operated for many years.
This is the largest seizure of fake gold nuggets in a single raid, which criminal syndicates have for years used to defraud unsuspecting buyers, mostly foreigners, of huge sums of money, severely tarnished the country's image.
During the operation a fortnight ago, DCEA officials also recovered forged stamps of the Commissioner for Minerals, Commissioner General of the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) and the Immigration Department, among others and fake documents used to give a facade of legality to their illegal transactions.
Neighbours of the house where the fake gold nuggets were being prepared had for sometime experienced choking smell coming out of the house, most likely because of the chemical processes taking place there.
"These people normally start their operations at around 2pm, their machines running until the wee hours of the susbsequent day... from the house came out choking smell," a neighbour who asked not to be named told The Citizen.
Yesterday, DCEA Commissioner General Rogers Siyanga confirmed the seizure, saying their planned anti-drug operation ended up unearthing a fake gold scam.
"It is true that we seized fake gold and we are in preliminary stages of investigations and once we are done, we will hand over the dossier and suspects to other arms of the law, for further steps," said Mr Siyanga.
He declined giving further details when The Citizen asked about the identities of the suspects and claims they were running a syndicate in collusion with the police.
Acting on a tip-off, DCEA officials mounted a 24-hour surveillance on the suspected house for a week to secretly monitor activities taking place there.
Upon raiding the house, the officers found four buckets of minerals that the fraudsters used to coat the gold-like nuggets. According to a source, the group use small samples of real gold to claim it is part of a larger amount and allowed foreign buyers to test the minerals before they went to issue them with fake gold.
The Citizen has been informed that already an American citizen, a Saudi and a South African, have been defrauded of $300, 000 (Sh660m), $200,000 (Sh440m) and $120,000 (Sh264m) respectively.
"The day we raided the house we got information showing there were some people travelling from the US to buy gold ingots from the suspects," an official who took part in the operation told The Citizen.
A man who was reported to be the owner of the consignment and several other suspects who were found in the house were arrested in connection with the suspicious activities. They were separately being detained at police stations around the city.
Yesterday, the special task force conducted more searches in the key suspect's home as they sought to gather more evidence on the activity.
The police have declined to give any details on the matter despite repeated inquiries by The Citizen. The acting Dar es Salaam Special Police Zone Commander Lucas Mkonday, the Zonal Crime Officer Camillius Wambura and the acting Kinondoni Regional Police Commander, all said they were not aware of the incident and asked for more time to get the necessary information.
However, they admitted receiving many cases in which unsuspecting buyers are conned of money by people who claim they can sell them gold bars.
A senior police officer told The Citizen yesterday fake gold fraudsters have tarnished the that image of Tanzania's gold business because many foreigners have been swindled billions of shillings over the years.
Unsuspecting buyers have ended up being conned by the crooks who are believed to run criminal syndicates that have operated in the country freely for many years.
Many cases have also been reported to the police and filed regarding foreigners being cheated by fake gold sellers but the cases have often ended without convictions.
In 2008, four Dar es Salaam residents, including popular businessman Muzamil Katunzi and football promoter Jackson Pemba were charged at the Kisutu Resident Magistrate's Court with selling fake gold and gemstones. The duo, together with a secretary with Muzasha Tours Heavenlight, only identified as Juma, and another local businessman Erast Mabuli faced charges of falsely obtaining over $240,000 (Sh276 million) from the sale of 100kg of the fake minerals to foreigners Doron Kats and Roman Mashair.