ZIMBABWE – At least 376 suspects were arrested last year and 4,5 tonnes of ivory recovered during an operation that was conducted by the International Police (Interpol) in Africa following rampant increase of ivory smuggling on the continent.
During the Interpol-led operation code-named, Worthy II, investigations of 25 criminal groups involved in the illicit trade were also conducted.
Zimbabwe has been a member of Interpol since November 13, 1980 and has been conducting joint operations with other member States to curb crimes. Police officers have also been attending training workshops organised by Interpol.
According to the Interpol website, the operation also involved law enforcement agents from Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. In addition to the ivory and rhino horn, thousands of other wildlife products were also seized, including 2 029 pangolin scales, 173 live tortoises, 55 kg of sea cucumber, warthog teeth, big cat, pangolin and python skins and impala carcasses, as well as 532 rounds of ammunition, five firearms and two home-made rifles.
The aim of Operation Worthy II was to enhance coordinated law enforcement responses to wildlife crime through cross-border, multi-agency collaboration, systematic intelligence exchange and analysis and the use of advanced investigative techniques. It was supported by Interpol’s Project Wisdom which targets the illicit trade in ivory and rhino horns.
Mr Francis Rwego, the Head of the Interpol Regional Bureau for East Africa in Nairobi, said: “Operation Worthy II was a very successful initiative for the countries involved, in particular the pre-operation meetings and workshops which provided officers with the necessary skills to carry out the operational phase effectively.
“This operation could not have achieved such success without the on-the-ground actions by national law enforcement supported by Interpol’s global network.”
During the operation, Investigative Support Teams were deployed to Kenya and Tanzania and also to Asian countries including Singapore and Thailand where several tonnes of elephant ivory and rhinoceros horns were seized.
Meanwhile, the trial of three men nabbed at the Harare International Airport while trying to smuggle 215,5 kg of ivory to Singapore failed to start on Monday.
One of the accused, Andrew Marowa (51) absconded court and was issued with a warrant of arrest.
The other accused Kenny Zita (42) and Kudakwashe Kanodira (35) were remanded to February 9 for the trial, while the fourth accused Mohammed Gijero (33) is on the run.
In their defence through their lawyer Mr John Ndomene, Zita told the court that he is a taxi driver who was hired by Gijero.
“I had no idea what was inside the trunks because they were locked. I didn’t have any reason to suspect anything because it is my duty to ferry items for clients,” said Zita.
Defending himself, Kanodira said he was asked by a former colleague only identified as Nhira to accompany his trunks to the airport.