Kenyan and British authorities are working together to nab criminal networks in East Africa and beyond, especially those at the Port of Mombasa using the facility as a conduit for illicit trade.
The two governments are rooting out illicit trade at the gateway to East Africa and safeguard a level playing field for legitimate businesses.
In a joint statement from Commissioner-General of the Kenya Revenue Authority, Director of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and Managing Director of the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), the agencies said they would continue collaborating with international partners in detecting, disrupting and deterring all forms of illicit trade at the Port of Mombasa.
The multi-agency security team working at the Port of Mombasa has disrupted an international criminal syndicate that has been smuggling into the country vehicles stolen overseas through an intensified surveillance and enforcement measures at all ports of entry and exits.
The coordination between these agencies has led to the seizure of illicit goods including 21 high-end motor vehicles that the syndicate had stolen from the UK and attempted to sneak into the country through the port.
Intelligence shared among the agencies indicated that the four vehicles estimated to be worth Sh40 million had been stolen from Berkshire, London, and Oxfordshire in UK between November 11, 2018 and February 7, this year and shipped into the country.
“The vehicles, were meant for sale in the East African market. The Kenyan authorities involved in the interception of the goods says the vehicles had been declared as household items while others had been declared as cloned chassis numbers to hide their stolen status,” the agencies said in a statement read by KRA Acting Commissioner, Intelligence and Strategic Operations Dr Terra Saidimu.
The authorities traced to Kenya the top-of-the-range motor vehicles after they were confirmed stolen in the Interpol’s motor vehicles database.
Fabricated ingress clearance documents showed the vehicles were destined to the neighbouring country of Uganda but officials manning the custom section suspected that the high-end vehicles were likely to be diverted into the Kenyan market.
The four vehicles were last week on Friday shipped back to their owners in the UK, who had reported to the authority the theft of their vehicles.
The four vehicles — including a black Range Rover Vogue Autobiography, a white Mercedes Benz GLE and two black Range Rover Sports Autobiography — were loaded onto a truck and transported to a vessel ready for shipment to the UK.
The multiagency team has also attributed the dismantling of the illicit trade to information and intelligence sharing with International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) and the UK’s National Crime Agency.
British High Commissioner to Kenya, Ms Jane Marriot, said the UK was actively involved in monitoring, coordinating and liaising with the KRA to support the re-shipment of the four vehicles to their owners in the UK.
Mr Waqar Qureshi who represented Ms Marriot said the owners of the stolen motor vehicles had made reports of their missing property in the UK and assured to support the fight against the illicit trade.
The team is now sending a strong message to criminal networks in East Africa saying the port of Mombasa will not be used as a conduit for illicit trade.
“We are going beyond the quest for revenue and heeding the President’s call to root out illicit trade and safeguard a level-playing field for legitimate businesses,” KPA Managing Director Daniel Manduku said.
In 2018, the Kenyan government launched an energised campaign to fight illicit trade in the country.
“This included heightened surveillance and enforcement measures at all ports of entry and exit. Since then various government agencies have participated in joint operations to seize illicit goods including counterfeits, sub-standard goods and smuggled goods,” added Dr Manduku.
Stolen motor vehicles
The government agencies said that between March and September this year up to 21 high-end motor vehicles valued at more than Sh130 million stolen from the UK have been intercepted at the Port of Mombasa.
“Besides the collaboration among Kenyan agencies, these interceptions were also made possible through information and intelligence exchange with international law enforcement partners. The International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL) working through the DCI, and the UK’s National Crime Agency working through the British High Commission in Nairobi played a big role,” KRA Deputy Commissioner for the Southern Region Nicholas Kinoti said.
However, Mr Kinoti and the multi-agency team who spoke at the port on Friday last week while witnessing the reshipment of four of the stolen vehicles said no suspect has been arrested in connection to the seizure, but said investigations were still ongoing.
The seized vehicles were shipped at ports in the UK and Belgium. According to manifest information, all the 21 vehicles were intended to transit through Kenya and arrive at other destinations in East Africa.
“However, given recent seizures made by DCI, we believe that such high-value stolen vehicles occasionally enter the Kenyan market illegally. Kenyan and British authorities are working together to ensure stolen vehicles are returned to the country of origin,” added the KRA coast boss.
In June this year, two vehicles — a Range Rover Sport and a BMW X5 — were successfully shipped back to the UK.
“Black Range Rover Vogue Autobiography, stolen on January 10, 2019 in Berkshire, UK was seized at Mombasa Port on April 12, 2019 inside Container No. BMOU2203652. Black Range Rover Sport, stolen on November 11 last year in London, UK and seized on April 12, 2019 inside Container No. MSCU6941751, white Mercedes Benz GLE 250D AMG, stolen on February 1, 2019 in Berkshire, UK and seized on April 24 2019 inside Container No. MEDU3977530," read the statement.
The Black Range Rover Sport Autobiography, was stolen February 7, 2019 in Oxfordshire, UK and seized at Mombasa Port on April 24, 2019 inside Container No. AMFU3166452.
The vehicles will be received in the UK by police authorities, specifically the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS).
“UK Police will undertake further law enforcement measures and eventually reunite the vehicles with their rightful owners. The government is actively engaged to revamp the automotive sector and promote Kenya as a vehicle-manufacturing hub in the region. We cannot afford to provide safe passage for stolen motor vehicles into the East African market,” Mr Qureshi who represented Mr Hailey.
The authorities termed the joint efforts by government agencies at the port of Mombasa a great success in law enforcement and trade facilitation. This comes a few weeks after Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala revealed that the port and specifically container freight stations (CFSs) are conduits of illegal trade including drugs and wildlife trafficking. Mr Balala told the Port Stakeholders Workshop on Countering Wildlife Trafficking Through Sea Ports, held at the Voyager Beach Resort in Mombasa two weeks ago, that the port was a conduit of drugs and wildlife trophies.