Uganda hunts for missing ivory worth $1 million

AP News
Posted: Nov 17, 2014 11:43 AM

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — More than a ton of ivory has disappeared from a Ugandan government vault, a police official said Monday as a corruption watchdog agency launched an investigation of Uganda's wildlife protection agency over the missing tusks.

Ugandan detectives recently questioned officials from the Uganda Wildlife Authority as well as the Ministry of Tourism over the missing ivory, which is believed to have been worth about $1.1 million, said Ugandan police spokesman Fred Enanga.

"We are still collecting the paperwork, the documentation in order to establish the proper interrogation lines," he said. "For example, why did they keep piling the ivory up? It was supposed to be destroyed. The fact that they kept piling it up raises more questions."

Some of the missing ivory is believed to have been confiscated more than a decade ago.

The government-controlled New Vision newspaper reported Monday that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni had ordered the Inspectorate of Government — a watchdog agency that is mandated to investigate cases of alleged corruption among government officials — to start a formal investigation of the matter.

The newspaper said it had found evidence of widespread theft of ivory "perpetuated by (Uganda Wildlife Authority) staff" who connive with wildlife traffickers. It was not immediately possible to get a comment from the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the government agency that runs Uganda's many national parks and which is in charge of all confiscated ivory.

The U.N.'s Environmental Program says that major criminal cartels are running the global shipments of ivory, and activists say corruption — especially when wildlife officials, police and border agents are bribed by wildlife smugglers — is fueling the global trade.

Cissy Kagaba of the watchdog group Anti-Corruption Coalition of Uganda said the case of missing ivory shows rampant corruption amid what she called "a breakdown of systems" within the official bureaucracy of this East African country.

"The Ministry of Tourism should have been able to tell that this was happening," she said."It just shows that government systems are not working."