Uganda seizes minerals smuggled to Rwanda

Monday August 19 2019

Workers extract gold from ore at Katen

Workers extract gold from ore at Katenga mining site in Buhweju District last year. PHOTO BY ALEX AINEBYOONA 

By Perez Rumanzi

Police and the army at the Mirama Uganda-Rwanda border on Thursday evening impounded at least a tonne of minerals.
They also arrested an individual attached to Zanack Holding Mining Company in Ruhaama, Ntungamo District, over allegations of smuggling minerals into Rwanda, disguising the gems as maize grains.

The raid, according to sources familiar with the operation, also included Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) officials at the border.
They searched the items that were being ferried into Rwanda on bicycles, only to find the packages containing minerals.

“We were suspicious because the items were in small portions and yet when they are entering food stuffs, they normally carry them in big bags. We stopped the people ridding the bicycles and we were shocked to find they were minerals,” a security official, who spoke to Daily Monitor on condition of anonymity, said.

He said the individuals have been ferrying similar items on different occasions through the border at times with policemen escorting them.

Among the minerals impounded were at least 600 kilogrammes of tin while the rest were a mixture of other gems not mined in Ntungamo.
Mr Ali Kakande, the head of the Miraama border post, confirmed the development. He, however, could not divulge further information.

“Customs is no longer in-charge of minerals. Minerals are now handled by a team from Mineral Police and customs only comes in if minerals are declared export or importation,” Mr Kakande said.


However, a customs official, who participated in the operation, said the Mineral Police have been involved in the smuggling of minerals that at times are passed through an ungazzetted route through Miraama stream, with hired smuggler ferrying it across the border on bicycles and on their heads.
The company officials were unavaible on the weekend to respond to the allegations.

In an interview early this month, Mr Moses Sserunjogi, the Zanack Holding manager, said with closure of the borders, tin produced in the Rwamwire tin mines was being supplied to Rwanda.

He said they currently take little portions or stock the minerals waiting for opening of the borders as the substances are only sold through Rwanda and later exported to American and European markets.

Mr Samson Kasasira, the Rwizi Region police spokesperson, declined to discuss the matter, including claims that some police officers may be involved in smuggling of the precious metals. “It is URA that impounded them (minerals), it will have to comment on the matter because the goods are in their possession, not police,” he said.

However, on Saturday evening, Mr Isaac Kanzira Kafureka, the Mineral Police officer in-charge western region, confirmed the seizure of the minerals but said he was away when the raid was executed.

“I was not there when the army impounded the minerals, I was in Kampala and I think the case is under investigations. What I heard from the mineral dealer is that they got the minerals from the store where he was storing the minerals, waiting to sell [the stock across] the border, but the army thought he was smuggling them,” Mr Kafureka said.

He said the suspect in the case had no mineral exporter licence.
“The person arrested has a mineral dealer’s licence. However, if he wants to export the minerals, he should have gone ahead and got an exporting licence. However, government banned exportation of minerals and issuing licences for export. So what he told me is that he was putting them in a store waiting for lifting of the ban before they are exported,” Mr Kafureka said.

While the Mining Act prohibits having a mineral store in an area outside a mining area, Mr Kafureka could not explain why the store was also located at Mirama - at least 12 kilometres from the Zanak Holdings mining lease area.

He acknowledged that there may be smuggling of such minerals across the border because of porousness.

Mr Kafureka said an agent of the alleged smuggler had been arrested and taken into custody at Ntungamo Police Station.