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The Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DIS) has been caught up in an elephant poaching scandal after three of its members were arrested by the Wildlife Intelligence Unit at a roadblock in Makalamabedi, Boteti Sub District, on Thursday.
The Minister of Wildlife and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama, has vowed that he will stop at nothing to protect Botswana’s elephant population and the arrest of the DIS agents last week is seen as a demonstration that there will be no sacred cows in his campaign to protect Botswana’s natural resources.
Sources close to the arrest told Sunday Standard that as part of Tshekedi’s crackdown on poaching, the DIS has been on the radar of the Wildlife Intelligence Unit for sometime following a tip-off that the intelligence agency had gone rogue and was part of an international diamond and ivory smuggling racket.
After a long surveillance stake-out, the Wildlife Intelligence Unit allegedly mounted a roadblock in Makalamabedi where they lay in wait for the three agents – names known to this publication - who were driving from Ngamiland.
The trio, one a former police officer, another an ex-wildlife officer and the third who joined the DIS as a civilian claimed that they were on an anti-poaching operation, but could not account for the ivory in their possession.
The agents who were arrested with a huge sports bag containing two sliced elephant tusks allegedly asked to be allowed to phone DIS Director General Isaac Kgosi, but were denied contact with their boss and were handed over to the Botswana Police Service.
There are suspicions that there was a leak in the operation and the DIS boss was tipped off about the arrest because a while later, acting Police Commissioner Bruno Paledi allegedly called and instructed that the three poachers be released from police custody.
Paledi would not take calls on Friday and insisted on SMS communication saying he was in a meeting. In an SMS response to the Sunday Standard, Paledi stated that “Thanx for asking Outsa, nna I know nothing about DIS Poachers. Gape I can’t release people I never arrested”.
Information gathered by the Wildlife Intelligence Unit suggests that the DIS has been smuggling ivory and diamonds out of the country in their Pilatus PC 12 aircraft as diplomatic cargo which enjoys immunity from search or seizure.
Diplomatic cargo is ferried across borders in diplomatic bags, also known as diplomatic pouches, which are containers with certain legal protections.
The physical concept of a “diplomatic bag” is flexible and can take many forms (e.g. a cardboard box, briefcase, duffel bag, large suitcase, crate or even a shipping container).
Additionally, a diplomatic bag usually has some form of lock and/or tamper-evident seal attached to it in order to deter interference by unauthorised third parties.
The most important point is that as long as it is externally marked to show its status, the “bag” has diplomatic immunity from search or seizure, as codified in Article 27 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
It is often escorted by a diplomatic courier, who is similarly immune from arrest and detention. A diplomatic courier is an official who transports diplomatic bags as sanctioned under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
Couriers are granted diplomatic immunity and are thereby protected by the receiving state from arrest and detention when performing their work. Couriers may be assigned on an ad hoc basis, but in those cases they are released from immunity once their bags have been delivered.
According to the Wildlife Intelligence Unit, the contraband is airlifted in a DIS Pilatus PC 12 aircraft to Zambia where it is delivered to contacts in that country who then smuggle it through Tanzania’s Indian Ocean ports of Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar which are the principle exit points for vast quantities of ivory to the Asian markets.
The Wildlife Intelligence unit has already alerted the Zambian intelligence to the ivory smuggling through Lusaka.
Tshekedi could not be reached for comment as his cellular phone was offline.