Former Zimbabwean First Lady Grace Mugabe is being investigated for allegedly heading a poaching and smuggling ring. Police are closely examining allegations that the wife of Zimbabwe's immediate ex-president was involved in the illegal exportation of the elephant tusks as well as gold and diamonds.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa gave the go-ahead for the “urgent” investigation of Mugabe following “very strong” evidence uncovered by Australian photo-journalist Adrian Steirn in a police sting. “For years I've been documenting the front-line poachers who end up serving 20 years for shooting a giraffe. Meanwhile, she was taking billions of dollars out of the country,” the journalist disclosed.
“Ivory was being sourced either from the national parks’ vault, being thieved or pilfered, or from live elephants being killed by poaching syndicates. The syndicate would then sell to Grace Mugabe’s clientele,” Steirn told Al Jazeera.
“She would then be able to pack that and send it out through the airport. Anything through that airport, that was the property of the first lady, was not searched or scanned in any way.”
Christopher Mutsvangwa, a special adviser to Mnangagwa, confirmed the investigation.
"We have commenced a full inquiry in addition to ongoing investigations into the recent seizure of a large quantity of ivory that was bound for an overseas destination."
Two suspected poachers, who were held in the sting, claimed the former first lady was the mastermind behind the operation. The accused were attempting to sell tusks to Steirn, who had set up a four-month investigation prompted by allegations involving Mugabe.
"If they charge and arrest her, and she goes to jail for wildlife crimes, that will change the dynamic of the entire perception of wildlife trafficking across Africa," Steirn explained.
The journalist reportedly recorded the suspected poachers detailing that Mugabe smuggled ivory – from national parks and or government warehouses – out of Zimbabwe using her diplomatic waiver.
“In order for it to pass through customs, the goods of the First Lady were not searched. She had immunity from the government,” a registered ivory dealer, Fariken Madzinga, allegedly said in the video. “There is nobody who is going to open this.”
During a trip as First Lady, official government stationary instructed cargo department and airport security to not scan or search the belongings of the first family or their entourage, a Sydney Morning Herald report said.
Madzinga, along with Tafadzwa Pamire, were in possession of six large tusks – worth over US$28,000 – when they were detained in the sting.
Steirn said he has received death threats warning him against testifying.
So far, no charges have been filed against Grace Mugabe. Mustvangwa stated that there is no current indication that former President Robert Mugabe is involved.
According to a 2016 report, Zimbabwe is home to about 86,000 elephants, the second largest population in Africa, but a 10 percent decline over the past decade.