The Lilongwe Magistrate’s Court has jailed ivory trafficker Winston Humba in a case which has lifted the lid on a clandestine factory where tusks of endangered elephants were being reduced to bits for easy smuggle by air travel.
The 38-year-old convict, from Ntcheu, was yesterday sentenced to seven years behind bars.
Department of National Parks and Wildlife director Brighton Kumchedwa, who last week won the K19.5 million Tusk Award for Conservation in honour of his role against ivory trade, described the custodial sentence as a reasonable deterrent to would-be criminals.
He said: “The laws are very clear that those involved in crimes against endangered animals should be slapped with a straight custodial sentence.
“I find it reasonable and commendable that our courts are handing a jail sentence of this magnitude. I hope it will send a message to the criminals that Malawi is no longer their playground.”
Humba was captured by police at his concealed ivory ‘factory’ in Lilongwe on December 26 last year.
During the Boxing Day raid, the security agents found heavy-duty machinery was being used to process raw ivory into smaller pieces for easier air transport to addresses in Thailand and Malaysia.
According to court documents, 126 kilogrammes of off-cuts were found scattered on the floor—reportedly the leftovers from a larger 475kg consignment smuggled from Zambia.
Welani Chilenga, the chairperson of the Natural Research Committee of Parliament and co-chairperson of the Malawi Parliamentary Conservation Caucus, expressed shock at the existence of the factory in the country.
He saluted authorities involved in this case and urged them to continue working diligently in the crackdown on “criminal networks that must be disrupted for the sake of the survival of some of Africa’s most iconic species.”
Humba had originally pleaded not guilty in January to both charges of possessing and dealing in ivory.
He was charged with two counts for contravening Sections 86(1) and 91(1) of the National Parks & Wildlife Act.
However, he made a dramatic U-turn when he pleaded guilty to one count of dealing in ivory, but maintained his plea of not guilty on the first count of possession.
Principal resident magistrate Patrick Chirwa, presiding over the trial, reasoned with him that one had to possess the item before dealing in it.
However, when he entered defence on October 2 this year, he admitted taking two kg raw ivory from his home to his mother’s residence.
Four men, who were arrested between December 22 and 26, in connection with the ivory factory, have also been convicted.
In March, Godfrey Kaludzi was sentenced to four years in prison with hard labour for illegal possession of the 126 kg ivory.
Last month, the court sentenced Golden Bakili, Mussa Malopa and Samuel Chiweta to four years in prison after finding them guilty of dealing in ivory.
The country is considered southern Africa’s largest trade route of gangs which traffic in ivory and other illegal wildlife products.
Before 2014, Malawi was seen as a ‘soft target’ and principal transit hub for wildlife criminals due to low interception and conviction rates as well as an average sentence of just $40 for ivory trafficking. n