Puzzle of girl who imported cigarettes for every Kenyan
- Contraband dealers are said to sometimes use fake details, especially for the receivers of goods.
- The cigarettes were nabbed alongside other commodities such as China Police attire, whose intended use remains unclear.
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Detectives are burning the midnight oil to unravel the mystery of a house girl said to be the owner of a consignment of cigarettes nabbed by the Kenya Revenue Authority investigators at the inland container depot in Nairobi.
The consignment, which is in 40-foot containers, evaded Sh630 million duty.
Going by the standard packaging volumes of a 40-foot container (the largest shipping container), the consignment, which is said to have high-e nd cigarettes, has more than 196 million sticks, at least five sticks for every Kenyan; including children.
The containers being held at the Inland Container Depot in Nairobi are part of a Sh1.2 billion goods confiscated by investigators in the ongoing crackdown on contraband commodities.
The consignment has been a subject of stunning revelations on how crafty a cartel of duty evaders jump taxation by using proxies like clueless relatives and domestic workers.
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Sunday Nation has since learnt that the house girl with her international partners under the company name Quality GS Limited brought in the consignment in 44 containers while another five were shipped under Xplico Insurance Company Limited, a Nairobi-based firm with local and foreign directors.
The detectives believe the house girl may turn out to be a conduit used in the illicit trade just like similar proxies have been used in the multibillion shilling National Youth Service scandals, where a hairdresser turned out to be a key player in the transfer of millions, some in gunny bags.
By Saturday, the house girl was still at large.
If arrested, she may turn out to be Kenyaâs newest face of the duty evasion and corruption conduits in the ongoing crackdown on illicit trade.
A decision to destroy the consignment on Wednesday was reversed at the last minute as the mystery of who shipped the large consignment of cigarettes deepened.
KRA had trouble even getting information from the shipping line before the importers were revealed.
âIt may not have been easy burning that volume of cigarettes in the first place. It would turn everyone in this city a smoker.
"We are still pursuing the young woman but going by what we have seen so far, she may be the Kabura of these tax evaders,â a source involved in the investigations said, requesting anonymity.
Investigators first centred on the global shipping firm Maersk Line Kenya Limited to unravel the consignment owners who are said to have used various tricks to conceal their identity and give investigators a hard time to track them.
The Shipping line told Sunday Nation that it would not disclose more information on the case, which now puts it on the spot over what may turn out to be more than a mere duty evasion scheme.
Maersk Regional Communication Manager for Africa Tricia Suguitan confirmed the firmâs containers had been detained and that they were helping the detectives to shed light on the cigarettes consignment.
âMaersk Line has shared information on the identity of the cargo owner with the relevant authorities as requested.
"We are closely working with KRA on this matter. Due to the ongoing investigation we canno t disclose further details or comments,â Ms Suguitan wrote back.
Contraband dealers are said to sometimes use fake details, especially for the receivers of goods.
They then wait to see if the commodities pass the customs after which they collect the cargo.
The dealer essentially leaves the shippers to take all the risks involved in the process, a risk they are said to be properly compensated for.
Like in the cigarette consignment case, the importers go underground until they are sought by the police.
Focus has also shifted on Xplico Insurance Company in what may turn out to be the irony of a health insurance provider also importing cigarettes for the same clients it aims to safeguard.
On Saturday, the company that had a bitter court battle over its control in 2014 had no director or manager listed on its website.
Speaking to Nation on phone, the companyâs Managing Director Michael Muriithi fir st denied knowing anything about the matter.
However, he later confirmed that they had been contacted by KRA over the contraband cargo, but distanced the company from it.
âWe have talked to KRA, and we have convinced them the cigarettes are not ours. We have nothing to do with it,â Mr Muriithi said.
It however remains unclear how he would say he had convinced the taxman when investigations were still ongoing.
âXplico insurance is aware that health is the most valuable asset for all, particularly for people with dependants and commitments. A trip to the hospital can be much more costly than you might expect,â the companyâs website reads.
The cigarettes were nabbed alongside other commodities such as China Police attire, whose intended use remains unclear.
There we also undergarments worth Sh21 million, electric cables worth Sh10 million, most of which were counterfeits, car spare parts, tooth brushes, fake iron sheets and TV decoders worth Sh22.5 million.
Another cargo of cooking oil worth Sh10 million and an assortment of fake electronics worth Sh275 million were also nabbed.
Detectives say there is a new trend where consignments are shipped using proxies whose details are either taken without their knowledge or not.
The illegal traders are also said to have a well-weaved web of intelligence, ensuring they know whether there would be any trouble, and taking cover whenever the goods are likely to be confiscated.
âYou and I cannot engage in this business; these people have high intelligence, and they operate in a complicated way.
"As shippers, we only get to know the recipient of the cargo, who may or may not turn up to pick the cargo once it is flagged. We end up paying fees to keep it and some times destroy it,â Kenya Ship Agents Association Chief Executive Juma Tellah said.
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