Tanzania police try to unravel mystery of Mohammed Dewji's kidnap

Saturday October 20 2018

Tanzania's Inspector General of Police Simon Sirro

Tanzania's Inspector General of Police Simon Sirro addressing journalists on the mystery of Mohammed Dewji's kidnapping. PHOTO | THE CITIZEN | NMG 

By The EastAfrican
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Security forces in Tanzania are still wracking their brains trying to find the abductors of billionaire Mohammed Dewji who was found on Saturday, 10 days after he was kidnapped.

The Inspector General of Police Simon Sirro said the kidnappers dumped Mr Dewji, popularly known as Mo, at the Gymkhana Golf Club grounds in northwest Dar es Salaam at around 2am and escaped.

Mr Sirro told a press conference Saturday that the police found four guns including an AK47, three pistols and 35 bullets in the vehicle used in the kidnap.

The abductors had tried to burn the car before they fled, the police chief added.

“All indications still show that the kidnappers were foreigners," Mr Sirro said, adding that Mr Dewji told the police that "they were speaking English and very little Swahili.”

Mr Dewji also told the police that the kidnappers demanded a ransom but were hesitant to call his father when he gave them the mobile phone number, Mr Sirro noted.

“We already have the identities of the owner of the vehicle and the driver. Before they released Mo were already very close on their trail,” Mr Sirro added.

Outside help

The authorities had said on Friday that they had identified the driver of a vehicle used in the kidnapping.

Journalists were shown pictures of a dark blue car, a Toyota Surf, registration number AGX 404 MC, which Mr Sirro said entered the country on September 1, driven by one Obasanjo Zacharias Junior, from a neighbouring country that he did not name. It was not immediately clear to which country the registration plate belongs, but there’s speculation that it could be Mozambican.

Although the government had earlier said it would not invite investigators from outside the country to help with the search and rescue of Mr Dewji, the IGP said on Friday that his team was working with Interpol.

Questions

While the motive of the kidnap has not been established, Tanzanians have been posing more questions than they are getting answers for on the disappearance and return of the 43-year-old businessman.

Who could have been holding him and for what reason?

Many are looking at the businessman’s dealings and recent disputes. Is it business rivalry? Who were the two “white men” the police referred to as having been sighted at the scene of the kidnap?

The police have not been forthcoming with information to answer these questions, nor have they been helpful in dispelling allegations by opposition politicians that even the government was a suspect in this case.

“The government should release the CCTV footage from the hotel showing the two white people so that the public can support the police to find the abductors,” Shadow home affairs minister Godbless Lema said.

Questions have also been raised over Mo's relationship with the government.

The businessman, who is a former MP for Singed Urban, is believed to have been among the supporters of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party in the 2015 elections.

However, his cosiness with the party seemed to wane after an affiliate of the family’s company Mohammed Enterprises Tanzania Ltd (METL) Group was recently hit with large fines over importation tax.

The first signal of a possible falling-out was during President John Magufuli’s parliament inaugural speech in October in 2015 when he talked tough about the Dewji family’s unwillingness to hand over land they possessed to the government.

The government wanted to use the land for the liquefied natural gas project in Lindi, southern Tanzania.

The land title was subsequently revoked in 2015 and handed over to the Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation on behalf of the international oil and gas companies.

The family also owns an expansive sisal farm in Korogwe, Tanga. In December 2017, Deputy Minister for Land, Housing and Human Settlement Angelina Mabula said that the government was moving to repossess the land, but had learnt that Mohammed Enterprises had secured a loan from an international bank using the title.

Ms Mabula asked the company to surrender the farm to the government or have the title revoked.

Dutch entrepreneurial development bank FMO says on its website that it advanced MeTL a $20 million loan with an eight-year tenor for the expansion and rehabilitation of its sisal estates. It does not state what was offered as collateral for the facility.

However, CCM insiders said it was highly expected that the Dewjis would have resolved their issues with the government amicably.

Release

Mr Dewji was kidnapped October 11, 2018 at 5am at the Colosseum Hotel in the Oyster Bay suburb of Dar es Salaam. He was heading to the hotel's gym for a morning workout.

The Dewji family, through its spokesman Azim Dewji, earlier in the week announced a reward of Tsh1 billion (about $440,000) to anyone who would help find him.

After news that he had been found on Saturday, Tanzanians posed more questions about what could have transpired and how the abductors managed to escape.

Footage by local media showed a tired-looking Mo with dishevelled hair in a tee-shirt and jogging trousers as he thanked the police and President Magufuli.

Questions have also been raised about the location Mr Dewji was reported to have been dumped with some noting its close vicinity to key government and diplomatic installations including the State House.

Mr Lema, the opposition Chadema MP, who had earlier announced that he would hold a news conference on Mo's abduction on Saturday as the shadow home affairs minister called off the press briefing.

“I have called off the press conference as I await to see part II of this incident. I leave this to IGP Simon Sirro, for now. I will inform you [the media] where and when we will meet,’’ he wrote on Twitter.

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