Tanzania in the spotlight over ‘bomb’ chemical seized in Pakistan

Thursday January 14 2016

Port of Dar es Salaam. Authorities in Pakistan have reportedly seized a large quantity of a chemical used for making improvised explosive devices that allegedly originated from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. PHOTO | FILE

Authorities in Pakistan have reportedly seized a large quantity of a chemical used for making improvised explosive devices that allegedly originated from Tanzania.

According to the Pakistani news website The International News, the amount is by far the biggest quantity of acetic anhydride seized anywhere in the world.

The 21.7 metric tons of the chemical, worth an estimated 860 million Pakistani rupees ($8.2 million), were discovered in a 20-foot container last Saturday, several weeks after it had arrived at Port Qasim from Tanzania.

Acetic anhydride is banned in many countries because it is used as the major precursor for the production of heroin and is also used in the manufacture of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

According to reports, the container was declared to contain “acetic acid glacial”, but port authorities, upon receiving “credible” information, profiled and searched it.

The container, imported from Dar es Salaam last November, was later shifted to a container terminal in Karachi, according to reports.


Improvised explosive devices

Authorities primarily suspected the consignment in view of the fact that Tanzania was not traditionally a producer of acetic acid. The consignee of the shipment was said to be in Sialkot, a city located in the northeast of Punjab in Pakistan.

It was, however, yet to be determined what the actual purpose “of this sinister attempt” was, authorities said in Karachi.

They added that the expertise and skills of trained officers had led to the record seizure that would save Pakistan from the threat of IEDs.

This is not the first time that a large haul of chemicals, which are used to produced narcotics, have been seized after being imported into foreign countries from Tanzania.

Drug dealers

In July 2013, South African police arrested two Tanzanian women with narcotic substances worth $3.2 million at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport.

Ms Agnes Gerald, alias Masogange, was later fined 15,000 rand ($904), while Ms Melissa Edward was acquitted.

The two spent two months behind bars before a South African court passed judgment in their case. Earlier reports said the two smuggled 180 kilogrammes of methamphetamine, which is also used to produce heroin.

The seizure in Pakistan comes few weeks after President John Magufuli declared an all-out war against drug dealers.

Inaugurating the 11th Parliament in Dodoma last November, President Magufuli said fighting the narcotics trade would among his priorities.

Similar sentiments were echoed by newly appointed Home Affairs minister Charles Kitwanga, who directed the police force to dismantle networks of drug dealers operating in the country.

Control mechanisms

According the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), it is possible to purchase pharmaceutical products on demand in most countries in East Africa without presenting a valid prescription.

Many of these products, sometimes imported without authorisation, are sold by hawkers in street-markets.

UNODC says the situation has been worsening in the last 15 years. In the majority of the countries in the UNODC Eastern Africa region, control and monitoring of the national drug supply and distribution channels, including precursors, are inefficient.

This results not only in the ineffective control of pharmaceutical products, but also in the circulation of counterfeit medicines, according to UNODC.

The UN body says the emergence of Mandrax in the region has gone hand in hand with the diversion of licit drugs and essential chemical precursors into the illicit market.

The control of essential chemical precursors that are either being trafficked through the UNODC Eastern Africa region to countries producing cocaine and heroin or used in the illegal production of Mandrax, is an important part of the battle against drugs in the region.

It is feared that illegal trafficking, importation and use will continue as long as there are no effective control mechanisms in the countries of the region.