ACC defends 18-tonne timber seizure

21 May 2019 | Justice

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is defending its seizure of 18 tonnes of rosewood imported into Namibia for shipment to China because it was part of a cross-border investigation into a number of crimes, including potential forgery and fraud.

This is revealed in legal documents filed by the ACC at the Windhoek High Court, after a Namibian businessman sued the ACC last year in an attempt to compel the return of the timber detained in December 2017 at Walvis Bay and have the warrantless seizure and detention declared unlawful.

The managing director of Devils Claw Maramatwa Investments (DCM), Pedro Ronald Sangoya, brought the case in June 2018 after the seizure of a consignment of “mukula” timber that he had transported from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for shipment to China. Mukula is a common name used for African rosewood in Zambia. However, the ACC, in heads of arguments filed this year, argued that the timber formed part of an ongoing investigation that “involves a contravention of a plethora of criminal breaches within and without the borders of Namibia”.

The ACC officer in charge said the investigation involved authorities from various countries, including Namibia, Zambia and the DRC, and was continuing.

“The detention and search of the timber was done procedurally and in terms of the law as there was a suspicion various crimes were committed in transporting the consignment,” the ACC officer said.

The ACC said the timber formed part of “exhibits for purposes of criminal investigations” and would be crucial once criminal charges were brought.





Lawyers for the ACC and the finance minister, the second respondent in the case, are asking the court to dismiss the claim with costs.



Long journey

In his founding affidavit Sangoya traces the timber's departure from the DRC in 2016 to Namibia, which included multiple and costly holdups.

He said the lengthy storage of the consignment was costing him thousands of Namibian dollars and could threaten his solvency.

Sangoya stated that the DRC timber deal originated after a man, only known to him as Emha, had informed him of the opportunity to export timber from the DRC to China via Walvis Bay.

Sangoya said his company exported a number of these consignments over the course of four months.

In May 2016, however, the container now in possession of the ACC was detained by the Zambian authorities as part of that government's “clampdown on the export of timber sourced from that country”.

He claimed that following a series of diplomatic interventions from the Namibian government, the trucks were released on 9 May 2016.

However, the trucks continued to be detained until January 2017 “pending finalisation of the diplomatic agreement, whereupon release the Zambian army escorted about 42 Namibian-bound trucks to Katima Mulilo”.

Sangoya claims that the six-month holdup cost him roughly N$700 000, which he could not afford to pay, and as a result the consignment was offloaded at Katima Mulilo, where it remained for the next 11 months.

Sangoya claimed he finally contracted a transport company to pick up the timber and take it to Walvis Bay, where it was seized by the ACC. He further claimed that during the 11 months the stock was held up at Katima Mulilo, the export permit from Zambian authorities required at Walvis Bay had expired. He was advised to approach a “clearing agent only known to me as 'Mambo',” who was paid around N$55 000 as a brokerage fee to provide the required paperwork.



Final delay

The ACC argues the search and seizure was based on a “reasonable suspicion that a number of criminal offences were committed”.

“It was during the festive season when magistrates are usually unavailable at court. I exercised my discretion judiciously and sedulously in the circumstances to avoid the dissipation of evidence,” the officer in charge added. Sangoya noted in responding court documents that during the ACC's confiscation of the timber he was neither informed that he was a suspect, nor informed of his right to legal representation. He argued that it would be shown the ACC had not exercised their powers lawfully.

Yesterday the case was postponed to 18 July for an opposed motion hearing. Kadhila Amoomo is acting on behalf of DCM Investment while Jabulani Ncube is acting on behalf of the ACC. Judge Thomas Masuku presides.

JANA-MARI SMITH

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