Police have opened investigations into a suspected container smuggling racket at the port of Mombasa believed to be depriving Kenya of tax revenues.
The Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) is targeting three top executives of Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) labelled key suspects in the racket involving release of containers through a manual system, which allows for cargo to exit the port without taxes paid.
The DCI has written to the KPA acting managing director, John Mwangemi, asking him to allow detectives to record statements from the managers in operations and container divisions.
“This office is investigating a case of suspected smuggling of containers from the port of Mombasa,” John Gachomo, head of Investigations Bureau at DCI, to KPA acting managing director, said in the letter.
Officials of the port and other government agencies there have faced frequent and widespread accusations of colluding with rogue importers and exporters.
Containers are expected to be cleared through an online system dubbed Kilindini Waterfront Automation System (Kwatos), which was installed in 2008 to curb tax evasion.
The containers cleared manually are later fed into the Kwatos system to indicate they remain within the KPA premises.
The port has become a focal point for President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration’s clampdown on cartel networks blamed for the inefficiency in the clearance of cargo.
Now, the DCI is seeking data captured on the Kwatos portal and all containers that arrived at the Mombasa port from February 2021.
Police also want ownership documents of all containers and amounts paid in taxes to Kenya revenue Authority (KRA) over the past eight months.
The investigators are also seeking a list of containers that were cleared manually from the port from January and registrations of vehicles that have hauled cargo from the facility since February.
“To enable us to successfully finalise our investigations we request your good office to facilitate our investigators to get (these documents),” said the DCI’s letter to the KPA’s acting boss.
“Kindly take the necessary administrative action to preserve the integrity of Kwatos system which is holding important data at the centre of this investigations.”
The KPA has been marred by leadership changes in recent years amid allegations of graft involving top executives.
The agency’s board in July this year appointed Mr Mwangemi, a former diplomat, as the acting managing director.
Mr Mwangemi replaced acting managing director Rashid Salim, who retired.
The KPA has been without a substantive head for more than a year after Daniel Manduku resigned in March 2020 in the wake of corruption charges.
He was succeeded by Mr Salim, the agency’s general manager for engineering, in an acting capacity.
The recruitment process has been suspended three times.
The Mombasa port is a vital artery for East African trade, handling fuel and other imports for landlocked neighbours, including Uganda and South Sudan.
The region’s main exports, tea and coffee, are also shipped out of Mombasa.
Western diplomats say it is also the main exit point for ivory poached in East Africa and smuggled to Asia, and has become a key entry point of heroin bound for Europe via East Africa.