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Who are these untouchable sugar barons in Kenya?

sugar baroons

So powerful are sugar barons that it is said the police, Parliament and intelligence fear unmasking the real faces behind the crippling woes in the sugar industry. Police claim the barons are ‘untouchable,’ while Parliament maintains that the intelligence has refused to disclose the names of those implicated in illegal importation and smuggling of sugar.

The startling admissions on how key institutions are helpless in the wake of public demands that the people behind the collapse of the sugar industry be arrested and prosecuted, is a pointer that the individuals could be very powerful and politically connected.

In the 2014 Annual Crime Report, the police noted that the black market is a very lucrative sector that deals a lot in contraband goods from Somalia, Uganda and Tanzania. According to police, the smuggling has benefited a clique of millionaire Somali-Kenyan traders they refer to as ‘the untouchable.’

“The flooding of markets by foreign contraband goods, such as foodstuff, petroleum products and alcoholic beverages smuggled into the country from neighbouring countries has led to significant revenue losses for the government,” the report revealed.

Efforts to get more information about ‘the untouchables’ proved futile. Police spokesperson Zipporah Mboroki accused the media of trying to misrepresent facts and promised to issue the ‘true copy’ of the report.

“No, there is nowhere in the report where it is indicated that some people are untouchables, that is the creation of the media. We were only concerned with statistics which I can give to you once I return to Nairobi,” said Mboroki.

The departmental committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Co-operatives passed the buck to the National Intelligence Service (NIS), accusing the agency of shielding sugar barons.

Appearing before the committee on July 10, 2014, the then NIS Director General, Major General (rtd) Michael Gichangi, promised to give full details within two weeks, a pledge he failed to honour.

The committee headed by Adan Mohamed Nooru had requested Gichangi to provide information on illegal importation and smuggling, as well as the names of illegal importers and smugglers and their local partners within and outside government.

The committee also wanted to know whether NIS had information concerning smuggling of sugar into the country through Kismayu and along Kenya’s border with Somalia, and circumstances under which industrial sugar was being used as table sugar.

“A letter detailing the above was sent for action, however this has not been effected to date,” said the committee in its report titled The Crisis Facing the Sugar Industry in Kenya.

The committee named a company allegedly involved in the repackaging of illegally imported sugar in Mumias Sugar branded bags. “Risingstar Commodities Ltd, a licensed sugar importer brought in sugar beyond the licensed quantities and needs to be further investigated over claims that it denied Kenya Sugar Board entry into its godowns for verification,” states the report.

When contacted, Zuher Ladak, the general manager of the Mombasa-based company requested first to consult the legal officer before responding. He later reverted with the statement that, “The legal officer is saying that we have no comment at the moment, thank you very much.”

Among a raft of recommendations, the committee proposed the establishment of a permanent inter-agency enforcement unit on sugar trade which should enhance capacity to verify, scrutinise and monitor cross-border trade and step up border patrols to eradicate sugar smuggling.

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