Maputo — The Cabo Delgado provincial attorney's office in northern Mozambique on Tuesday announced the arrest of eight members of staff working in various institutions at the airport in the provincial capital, Pemba, plus a local businessman, all accused of trafficking in protected species of wildlife.
Among those arrested are staff of Mozambique Airlines (LAM), the customs service, the provincial directorate of economic activities, and the Mozambican police.
They are accused of facilitating the trafficking to Malaysia of cargo consisting of pieces of ivory, the bones of wild animals yet to be identified, and lion teeth and claws.
The detentions in Pemba follow the seizure on 27 May by the Tanzanian police, at Dar es Salaam International Airport, of boxes containing pieces of ivory and other animal parts, which had been dispatched at Pemba, with the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur as their final destination.
The traffickers had attempted to pass this cargo off as a shipment of shellfish. But when the cargo was opened, it was found to consist of 166 pieces of ivory in 16 boxes, five boxes of animal bones, 65 lion claws and 20 lion teeth.
According to the spokesperson of the provincial attorney's office, Noélia Madeira, if their involvement is proven, the nine suspects and any others involved will face prosecution for slaughter, transport and export of prohibited and protected species, corruption, smuggling, embezzlement, forgery of documents, criminal conspiracy and money laundering.
"Once the occurrence was confirmed, a team of prosecutors from the Attorney's office and inspectors from the National Criminal Investigation Service (Sernic) were deployed to Pemba Airport to investigate the facts. The preliminary investigations resulted in the arrest of a LAM air traffic technician', Madeira explained.
She revealed that the investigations carried out, between last week and this week, led to the arrest of seven other individuals belonging to various institutions at the airport, in addition to a businessman whose branch of activity was not mentioned.
Madeira said the behaviour of the suspects reflects the action of transnational organized crime. She said that measures are under way to identify and neutralize others involved in the trafficking network.
To carry out the operation, Madeira added, the group created a fictitious company that did not have the legally required documents. Wednesday's issue of the independent newssheet "Carta de Mocambique' named the company as Zein Mariscos Ltd, based in Pemba.
Madeira said the Public Prosecutor's Office is in permanent contact with the Central Office for the Fight Against Organised Crime, and the Assets Recovery Office, to recover the illicit goods now in the hands of the Tanzanian authorities. A team of prosecutors and Sernic investigators will soon visit Tanzania.