The prosecution of Abdulrahman Mahmoud Sheikh and 8 others is examined against the back drop of Wildlife Justice Commission's "10 crime enabling factors".
February 8th, 2022: Last week, the international investigative NGO, Wildlife Justice Commission, publicly released a detailed analysis report (Bringing Down the Dragon: An analysis of China’s largest ivory smuggling case) on a Chinese organized crime group that had been trafficking ivory from Nigeria to China since at least 2013. The report, much of which was based on trial hearing and media articles, revealed an organization, labeled as the “Chen Organized Crime Group” (OCG), that trafficked at least 20 tonnes of ivory from Nigeria to China. The investigation culminated with a seizure of 7.48 tonnes of ivory in China in March 2019 and the of arrest of 20 persons. In December 2020, 17 members of that OCG were found guilty, with those found most responsible getting life sentences with fines being levied and assets seized. It is seen as the the largest and most successful ivory case in China based on ivory seized, arrests made and sentences handed down
The Wildlife Justice Commission in their analysis of this ivory trafficking cartel, “identified a set of 10 enabling factors that facilitated their criminal operations.” They hypothisised that these 10 factors that permitted the OCG to operate unimpeded would also be a template to assist how to investigate and take them down.
The following are the “10 crime enabling factors” seen in the China/Nigeria environment but compared against the Kenyan arrest and prosecution of Abdulrahman Mahmoud Sheikh and eight others. They are accused of dealing in 511 pieces of ivory, weighing 3127 kg and seized in Bangkok in April 2015 having been containerised in Mombasa.
1. Established business operations in a susceptible country: Ivory had been leaving Kenya in large amounts since at least 2010, by air and sea. It is a country where its public service and police were known to give “preferred’ service to those who paid extra. All manner of imports and exports could be handled through Mombasa Port with the additional “fees” paid.
2. Corruption: In 2017, Kenya was 143 on the corruption index (now at 128) compared to Nigeria at 148 out of 180 countries. From a policing perspective, according to the World Internal Security and Police index, Kenya ranked as the third worst police agency internationally with Nigeria coming in the last position in a 2017 study. According to the Kenya Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), the most corrupt government department in the country was the police. In wildlife prosecutions centred on Mombasa port, Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) have either been charged or are seen to be complicit in ever major case.
3. Family-led criminal group: Like the Chen OCG and the father son team of Chen Jiancheng and sons Chen Chengguang and Chen Chengzong, the Shiekh’s were also a family business, with the Abdulrahman Mahmoud Sheikh, his half brother and father all charged in relation to the exported ivory. In 2014, a nephew of Mahmoud Abdulrahman Sheik (father) was arrested in Mombasa while taking delivery of 25 kg of ivory. Coincidentally, the son of Moazu Kromah, was also arrested in that bust (and acquitted).
4. Financial flows: While a financial investigation on the assets and companies of the Sheikh’s was commenced, it was never finalized. Bank accounts were identified where the co-mingling of funds was alleged.
5. Corporate layering: The Sheikh’s had a variety of businesses and companies that engaged in construction, road works, sale of petroleum products, and sale of polythene bags exported from China to Tanzania. They had won three tenders for construction work through the Kenya Port Authority. Travel to Dubai and China had also undertaken under the flag of company business.
6. Use of concealment methods: While the Chen OCG preferred timber as a cover load, the Sheikh’s used tea leaves to ship 6 containers (only charged for one) of contraband to south east Asia. The tea was purchased by a shell company, Potential Quality Supplies (PQS), through a tea broker who made cash purchases without issuing receipts.
7. Multiple transit points: The one ivory shipment for which the Sheik’s had been charged, went through Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, before being seized in Port Laem Chabang, (Bangkok),Thailand.
8 Multiple clearing agents and consignees: The Sheikh’s organization, while using the same clearing agent on documents, did change the consignee twice after the shipment had left Mombasa. In three ivory seizures of January 2013 that are related to the Sheikh’s network, different documents had different clearing agents and different consignees.
9. Illegal border crossings and fake passports: Abdulrahman Mahmoud Sheikh had a Tanzanian passport in the name of Said Juma Said and travelled to Tanzania on a regular basis. Under that name, he also leased a 3 bedroom home in a Mombasa ‘suburb’ that was used as an ivory consolidation point.
10 Purchasing shipping containers: While the Chen OCG purchased shipping containers, the Sheikh’s did not, going instead to a preferred and trusted depot and transport facilitators. As tea leaves at the time were exempt from scanning there was no necessity for modified or secret compartments.
The Sheikh’s “group” provided a ivory logistics business, getting the ivory from the supplier (often Moazu Kromah and the West African cartel in Kampala) to wholesalers in south east Asia. Their last shipment before their arrest in June 2015 was for the Shuidong network in China.