Chinese national held over Tanzanite mineral smuggling

26Jan 2017
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Chinese national held over Tanzanite mineral smuggling

POLICE in Kilimanjaro Region are holding a 50-year old Chinese national accused of attempting to smuggle minerals out of the country via Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA).

Wenlong Yu, a technician working for a mining company in the country, was nabbed on Tuesday afternoon with five pieces of unique Tanzanite gemstone while checking in to board a Shanghai-bound plane.

Airport officials became suspicious of what protruded from his denim trousers, and upon closer inspection, uncovered the hidden precious stones.

According to the police, the suspect could not produce either purchase or tax documents for the cache.

The law also states that any minerals being transported outside the country must be accompanied by authorisation documents from the Tanzania Minerals Audit Agency (TMAA), which Yu failed to produce.

Confirming the arrest yesterday, Kilimanjaro regional police commander (RPC) Wilbroad Mutafungwa said Yu was being held at Hai district police headquarters pending legal procedures.

The suspect works for a Tanzanite mining company at Mirerani in Simanjiro District, Manyara Region, RPC Mutafungwa said.

The incident comes hardly a week after the parliamentary standing committee on Infrastructure decried security weaknesses at KIA, which committee members described as notorious for smuggling minerals and live animals outside the country, as well as drug trafficking.

The airport is a hub for direct flights to different countries, preferred by tourists for its proximity to the roof of Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro, as well Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park.

Following a committee visit to KIA last week, chairman Mussa Ntimizi called on the government to take immediate measures to improve the security situation there which he said cannot be left in its current state.

“As parliament, we are not impressed with the security at this very important airport,” Ntimizi said, adding:

“We think the government should install new radar and other security equipment so as to avert the loss of our country’s resources that takes place here (at the airport) because of the security weaknesses.”

On December 15, 2015, a Vietnamese national was caught at KIA with 261 lion paws and 60 lion teeth weighing 2.36 kilogrammes in total as he prepared to board a plane departing the country.

Also nabbed was an Indian national with 264 pieces of tanzanite. Both were arrested for attempting to smuggle the items out of the country because they failed to show documents authorizing their export.

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