6 March 2019

Mozambique: Is Mozambique Moving Against Heroin?

The first heroin seizure took place last month, at the same time as the trial of Momade Rassul opened, both in Nampula province.

32kg of heroin were found hidden among wooden furniture on a lorry at a police checkpoint near the Ligonha river in Murrupula, Nampula province. Provincial police on 25 February announced the18 February seizure. In the same form used by South African police, photographs of the pile of  1 kg bags of heroin were given to the press. bit.ly/NamHer1 and bit.ly/NamHer2 The drivers said they simply received the order and did not know the contents of the packages or to whom they were being delivered.

Rassul is charged with fraud, money laundering, criminal associations and illicit enrichment based on MT 741 mn ($12 mn) deposited in cash and in smaller amounts into his bank accounts. The former planning minister and Frelimo finance secretary Aiuba Cuereneia was called to give evidence because part of the accusation is that import tax exemptions of Frelimo were used illegally. He said all exemptions were legal. The defence presented nearly 4000 pages of documents to prove Rassul's innocence. Rassul was arrested in July 2017 and freed on $130,000 bail. The hearing was on 28 February and the verdict will be announced on 11 March. (O Pais 1 Mar).

Comment: For two decades Mozambique has been a major transit route for heroin - brought by boat to Cabo Delgado and then by road to Johannesburg for shipment to Europe. We published a major report on this last year: http://bit.ly/Moz-heroin It is argued that important Nampula trading families have controlled the heroin trade, which is effectively licenced through payments at high level to Frelimo. Heroin often arrives in branded 1 kg packets and at least some of the trade is now organised via WhatsApp with drivers hired by mobile phone like Uber taxi drivers - in the manner claimed by the arrested drivers. This seizure is unique in three ways: the drivers are normally given enough money to pay bribes to the police, if heroin is seized the police normally keep it and do not report it, and 32 kg is a relatively small cargo compared to the normal 50-100 kg.

Three Asian-origin families based in Nampula and Nacala are said to be major players in the heroin transit trade. Momade Rassul is head of one of the families involved, according to a report by the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime.

This could be the start of a serious crackdown on the heroin trade. Or it could be just for show. Or it could be a crackdown on those not making the proper payoffs or trying to operate freelance outside the main cartels.   jh


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