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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Shabaab's Kenyan Smuggling Ring Run by Hassan Turki

Truckloads of sugar smuggled in daily from Somalia are enriching warlords who control the lawless country.

So rampant is the illegal trade that a kilo of sugar retails at between Sh40 and Sh50,almost half of what it costs elsewhere in the country. Among the kingpins of the illegal trade is a man described by American intelligence as the key sponsor of Somalia’s main militia group, Al Shabaab.

Could you be enriching a fast-rising terrorist group, which has repeatedly attacked Kenya, every time you sweeten your cup?If the white sugar is not branded or comes at a price that is significantly lower than the prevailing market prices, then you probably are.

Today the Saturday Nation reveals how truckloads of sugar smuggled in daily from Somalia are enriching warlords who control the lawless country. The massive racket in not just sugar but:
  • cheap electronics
  • fake designer clothes
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Even maize is documented in week-long interviews with the local administration, MPs, Customs and government intelligence officials on the ground.

Impassable

  • A senior Customs official in North Eastern Province estimates that about 10,000 bags of smuggled sugar may be entering Kenya from Somalia daily.
  • They are ferried in by lorries, 4x4 vehicles and even donkeys.
  • Much of it finds its way into Nairobi and other major urban centres.

The smuggling is currently at its peak as the traders seek to beat the onset of rains, which render most of the smuggling routes impassable.

  • Last month, police seized 200 bags of sugar at Wajirbor, about 70 km east of Wajir Town.
  • A week earlier, another consignment was seized in Isiolo, hundreds of kilometres from the Kenya/Somalia border.
  • Yet another consignment in Mandera uncovered six pistols concealed in the sacks of sugar. The case is before a Wajir court.

Among the kingpins of the illegal trade is a man described by American intelligence as the key sponsor of Somalia’s main militia group, Al Shabaab, which controls large swathes of Somalia – and, therefore, the sea and land corridor for the illegal trade into Kenya.

The alleged sponsor, Hassan Abdullah Hersi Al-Turki (also known as Hassan Al-Turki), is rumoured to shuttle between Kismayu, Somalia and Garissa Town, from where he directs the multi-million dollar smuggling ring, according to a Kenyan intelligence source based in the province.

“The information we have is that he has a Kenyan ID,” provincial commissioner Kimeu Maingi told this writer last Monday. “But we are yet to establish that. We will liaise with the Immigration Department (to confirm the reports).”

Al Shabaab, which means “youth” in Somali language, rakes in about $250,000 (about Sh20 million) daily from smuggling sugar and other commodities, according to Customs and Intelligence officials Garissa. Somalia has about 11 militia groups, all intent on toppling the current government.

However, what separates Al Shabaab from the rest is its viciousness. It has uploaded videos on the Internet showing how it kills those who run across its philosophy of introducing an extremist Islamic state in Somalia, which has been reduced into warring factions in the void left by the collapse of strongman Siad Barre in 1991.In two recent forays,

Al Shabaab kidnapped two Italian nuns in a daring raid on El Wak and more recently militiamen captured Kenyan district officers, in both cases demanding ransom. During the raids they also killed security personnel.Last October, Al Shabaab units crossed the border and reportedly helped the 1998 US Embassy bomb suspect Al Fazul to escape from the hands of Kenya police.

The government is concerned Al Shabaab is infiltrating Kenya, according to deputy Speaker Farah Maalim Mohamed. “The fear is grounded,” he told this writer in Garissa Town last week. “It is a massive fear both at political and government level.”The government is concerned about the development.

“We are taking (the Al Shabaab issue) seriously,” the PC told this writer. Also, there are reports that Kenyan youths are being recruited into the ranks of Al Shabaab ranks.

Kenya closed its border with Somalia about two years ago, in effect outlawing any cross-border trade and movement of people. Yet, the illicit business is flourishing. The sugar is imported from as far afield as Dubai, Pakistan and Brazil.

So rampant is the illegal trade that a kilo of sugar retails at between Sh40 and Sh50 – almost half of what it costs elsewhere in the country. The sugar enters Somalia through Kismayu port, and onwards to the frontier areas of Geriley, Diff and Dadajabula.

  • Dealers communicate by satellite phones and VHF radios.
  • Most of the border points, especially in El Wak, lack even a security patrol vehicle while in other places, they have been grounded by the lack of fuel.
  • Even the Army’s Rapid Deployment Unit in Liboi cannot use its Land Rover and truck because both the vehicles have broken down, investigations revealed.
  • Sugar godowns exist in Wajir, Mandera, El Wak, Daadab, Modogashe, Habaswein and other trading centres across North Eastern Province.

In fact, the smuggled sugar is barely concealed. In Leheni, a few kilometres from Wajir Town along the way to Garissa, it is sold in the open.

“The main border is closed and manned by the Army, police and Administration Police,” says Mr Titus Murugu, the district commissioner of the 13,297 sq. km Lagdera, a region bordering the war-torn Somalia.

“But there are so many (undesignated) routes used by donkeys and four-wheel drive vehicles to smuggle sugar, even guns.”

His boss, Mr Maingi, is concerned too. “Sometimes we are overstretched (in trying to curb this illicit business). The problem is that when we arrest and prosecute these people, the Kenya Revenue Authority will take its tax and allow the sugar into the country.”

Whereas the vast Somali-Kenya frontier is hard to police, the smuggling appears to benefit hugely from corruption among police, KRA personnel and the unscrupulous traders.

  • In Wajir Town, elders spoke of the high frequency of bribery and why it has been difficult to have long-serving police officers moved from the area.
  • Proceeds from sugar smuggling are wired back to Somalia through the age-old informal money transfer system called hawallah – which is based on honour and trust. Hawallahs charge a mere five per cent to transfer money compared to the 17 per cent generally charged by some of the known money transfer institutions.
  • According to a US State Department report last year, hawallahs transfer a big portion of the $100 million (about Sh8 billion) laundered through Kenya every year.
  • In fact, a hawallah suspected to have remitted the money used in organising the bombing of US Embassy in Nairobi, has a branch in Wajir Town. This business thrives freely in towns across the country because Kenya is yet to come up with an anti-money laundering law.

The government is concerned about the flood of sudden money in an area officially classified poor. Mr Maingi, the provincial commissioner, says he has launched investigations into the possibility that the $150 million (about Sh12 billion) Somali pirates reaped in the seas last year may have found its way into his area, pushing up property values.

Blood moneyWe have instructed them (local authorities) to watch out for the blood money.”

  • In Wajir Town alone, close to 30 lorries carrying sugar from Somalia pass through en route to other parts of the country.
  • More sugar enters through Liboi, Mandera and El Wak in the north.
  • Local traders buy a 50-kilo bag of sugar at between Sh1,800 and Sh2,000.

“The country is losing so much revenue to this illegal business,” says Dagane Siyat Ali, a former chairman of Wajir County Council and who comes from Diff, an area bordering Somalia and a key smuggling route.

There is corruption everywhere. There is so much business despite the fact that the border is closed,” he added.

Abdi Noor Abdi Gaamey, a politician in Wajir Town, said he was threatened by a police officer when he complained about the influx of smuggled sugar into the area.

“He told me to my face that he will kill me if I didn’t I stop talking about corruption.”

  • Some sugar can be seen stacked in open fields along the Wajir Garissa Road, in full view of everybody, even security personnel, especially at Leheni, a small trading centre a couple of kilometers from Wajir Town towards Garissa Town.
  • The sugar is picked up by passenger buses that ply the route as well as heavy trucks from Mandera and El Wak.
  • This writer witnessed almost 20 bags placed in the bus he used back from Wajir on Sunday.
  • The inscriptions on the sacks indicated the sugar originated from Dubai.
  • Posted by Africa News Online at 8:19 AM

The Rest @ Africa News Online

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