Investigations into the theft of a consignment of tantalite worth $10 million belonging to a Rwandan company has exposed a web of theft and corruption involving officials of key agencies and departments in Tanzania’s government working in cahoots with cross-border criminals.
So far, police have arrested senior officers at the Tanzania Intelligence and Security Services (TISS), the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA), Tanzania Minerals Audit Agency (TMAA) and the Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA) as they investigate how the consignment was stolen in transit from Dar es Salaam port and sent to three privately owned inland container depots (ICDs).
They are now pursuing a national of the Democratic Republic of Congo believed to be in hiding in South Africa. He is believed to be the mastermind of the syndicate.
The proprietor of a clearing and forwarding company and his assistant, as well as a principal technician geologist, and two other senior officials of private companies have also been arrested while some two suspects are being interrogated.
Investigators recovered the container at one of the depots, just as it was about to be exported, using different documents.
While the tantalite (a rare black mineral, also known as columbo-tantalite or coltan) was intact, its accompanying documents now showed that it contained minerals worth $22,000 (Tsh35.2 million). It had an export permit issued by an officer of the Tanzania Revenue Authority, Mohamed Ahmed Mbuku, showing that the consignment was destined for Romania.
Apparently, the container had been shuttled to different ICDs in order to shake off anyone trying to trace it.
The investigations began when Rwanda’s ambassador to Tanzania, Dr Benjamin Rugangazi, called Tanzania’s Minister for Transport, Dr Harrison Mwakyembe, to express his government’s displeasure over the theft of the container.
The transport minister subsequently summoned his Home Affairs counterpart, Dr Emmanuel Nchimbi, who ordered the police to launch investigations.
Rwanda’s Trade Minister Francois Kanimba said his government started monitoring the situation following complaints from exporters that their minerals were being exchanged at Dar es Salaam port.
He, however, would not disclose the identity of the owners of the container at the centre of investigations.
Rwanda’s annual exports of cassiterite, wolframite and coltan, used in mobile phones and video-game consoles, may climb to $400 million by 2015 from last year’s approximately $150 million as a new mining code is enacted to boost production and investment in the sector.
According to Dr Mwakyembe, the investigations revealed that the privately owned Inland Container Depots that the government created to ease congestion at the port were now being used to steal transit cargo.
The EastAfrican has also been informed that another suspect linked to the syndicate was arrested after he was caught while removing servers from the Weights and Measures offices at the port in a bid to destroy evidence in the case.
The scandal could turn exporters from Rwanda and Burundi away from Dar es Salaam.
Already, Maersk and Safmarine have threatened to stop loading mineral cargo from the port of Dar es Salaam due to theft of transit minerals.
Dr Mwakyembe said he would discuss with the Minister for Finance and Economic Affairs, Dr William Mginwa, how to investigate the performance of the depots.
“It will not matter how much they have invested if they are found to have, in one way or the other, been involved in any malpractices; they will be shut down,” said Dr Mwakyembe.
Sources told The EastAfrican that they suspect that even the ivory and other government trophies that are smuggled out of the country, are packed at some of these ICDs.