A state-sanctioned investigation into a massive ivory and rhino horn trafficking scandal that prejudiced the foreign currency-starved nation of millions of United States dollars has sucked in former first lady Grace Mugabe.
Environment, Water and Climate minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri sensationally claimed in an interview with the Daily News yesterday that Grace would occasionally raid the country’s ivory stockpile kept at the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks).
The raids, according to Muchinguri-Kashiri, worsened when the Environment component of the ministry was assigned to former minister, Edgar Mbwembwe, weeks before the fall of Grace’s husband, Robert Mugabe, who had ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years.
And when Muchinguri-Kashiri was given back the Environment portfolio by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who ascended to power late last year through a military-assisted takeover, she immediately commissioned investigations into the matter whose preliminary results have sucked in Grace.
“That is the period when the stockpile was raided and when I came back, I was told that she (Grace) would prevail upon ZimParks officials to release the ivory on the basis that they were the first lady’s donations to unnamed fellow first ladies in the Far East,” said Muchinguri-Kashiri.
“I then commissioned a full investigation into the matter which has since been concluded and as of now, the report is being compiled, which I would release on conclusion. In doing so, I was also covering my back because people would say the ivory disappeared under my charge and I would be held responsible. You have to expose these things,” she said.
“The full report on the matter is going to be released soon,” she added.
The Environment minister also revealed that a police officer who was leading investigations into a consignment of 200 kilogrammes of ivory worth at least $2 million intercepted by security details at the Robert Mugabe International Airport in December last year, had died mysteriously.
The consignment was destined for the Far East.
“Government is also looking into the case of the investigating officer of the case who died strangely in Mozambique when he was pursuing the case. We only know that he went there on personal business (and) he didn’t come back alive,” she said.
Officials from ZimParks recounted to the Daily News dramatic scenes that unfolded at the airport when the consignment — which was destined for the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, was intercepted.
The consignment was checked in under the name of one Ray, who reportedly took to his heels and vanished through the busy airport when he realised that the smuggling had not succeeded.
Subsequently, sources said, investigations into the bid to smuggle the ivory had to be halted a few days later after it became clear that a powerful force was involved.
But later, the investigations resumed and a report on that is now with Muchinguri-Kashiri.
“We only know now that the consignment had been checked in by a middle-aged man called Ray, of whom we don’t have any further details at the moment, but the net is closing in,” said ZimParks director-general Fulton Mangwanya.
Zimbabwe sits on 96 000 tonnes of ivory valued at approximately $10 billion.
Illegal wildlife trafficking in Zimbabwe has become a multi-million dollar industry involving various animals and their body parts sold as souvenirs, trophies, and for “medical” use every year.
Leading destinations for such products, notably China and America, have banned their formal trade, but illegal and parallel traffic has ballooned.
In the wake of irregular attempts at wildlife conservation in China, the Chinese are now turning their acquisitive eyes to Zimbabwe. Since the millennium, the presence of China in Africa has grown exponentially every year. The demand for ivory, rhino horns, lion bones and hippo’s teeth is insatiable.
But this is having a detrimental effect on the conservation efforts as various wildlife species are at risk of extinction.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, if rhino poaching increases at a steady rate, African rhinos will be extinct within a decade. Poachers receive up to $60 000 per kilogramme.
Representing an estimated $20 billion of the illegal international trade estimated at $1,3 trillion per annum, wildlife trafficking is the fourth largest income earning transnational organised crime after drugs, arms and human trafficking.