Police bust Somalia-linked drug smuggling syndicate in Kitui

Mercy Kivali,

Dr Mercy Kivali, a pharmacist from Kitui County Government (in white coat), inspects counterfeit drugs suspected to have been smuggled from Somalia at Nguutani Police Station on February 9, 2024, as DCI officers look on.

Photo credit: Kitavi Mutua | Nation Media Group

Detectives in Kitui have busted a syndicate smuggling banned and counterfeit medicines from Somalia into Kenya.

A multi-agency team of security officers manning a roadblock at Nguutani area near Mwingi town on the Thika-Garissa highway on Thursday seized a truck carrying a consignment of various medicines packed in used cartons.

According to Eng Samuel Bett, who heads the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) in Kitui County, the suspected smuggler told police at the roadblock that the consignment was milk powder, but on further inspection, it was found to be suspicious pharmaceutical drugs.

When the truck driver, who is in police custody, was stopped, he told officers that he was returning from delivering sweets to Garissa town and that he was supposed to take the consignment to Nairobi.

"The driver claimed that he didn't know the contents of the cartons he was carrying and that the consignor was a wholesale shop owner in Garissa to whom he occasionally delivers Patco products," said Eng Bett.

The county DCI boss said the driver also claimed that he had been delivering similar goods to the particular consignee in Nairobi and from the same shop in Garissa for the past four years, all the while thinking it was milk powder.

“The drugs did not have logistical documentation as required by law and a thorough inspection revealed that they are not registered for clinical use in the country as they lacked stamps from the relevant government agencies," Eng Bett told journalists at Nguutani police station where the driver is being held.

The truck belonging to Patco Industries - a Nairobi-based confectionery company - was also impounded as investigations were launched to trace the source and destination of the banned drugs.

Eng Bett said their preliminary investigations revealed that the drugs, whose market value is not yet known, were smuggled from Somalia to avoid paying import duty to the Kenya Revenue Authority and then distributed illegally in Kenya.

Specialists from the Pharmacy and Poisons Board and the Kitui County government, who were invited to inspect the drugs, found that some of the drugs were counterfeit with unknown efficacy, while others had been banned for clinical use in Kenya more than 20 years ago.

After inspecting the batch numbers, Dr Mercy Kivali, the Sub County Pharmacist in charge of Mwingi West, said none of them resembled or matched any batch of health products under the custody of the county government.

Dr Kivali said there are strict regulations on the transportation of pharmaceutical products because their safety is what guarantees the safety of the end user.

"In Kenya, every trip to deliver drugs is considered an extension of storage activities to ensure that their quality is maintained," the county pharmacist said.

Apart from the delivery notes, Dr Kivali explained that the drugs have mandatory logistical documentation that includes the point of issue, the destination hospitals or pharmacies, details of the products and how they are packaged, and the names of the requesting and issuing medical officers.

Dr Onesmus Kilonzo of the Pharmacy and Poisons Board said the seized drugs would have to undergo further laboratory tests at the Government Chemist to determine their chemical composition.

"According to our registry, these drugs were banned a long time ago because they don't have the right medical efficacy. This makes them dangerous to public health, but they are being sold cheaply by rogue chemists to unsuspecting Kenyans," said Dr Kilonzo.

Other government agencies including the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency, the Anti-Counterfeit Authority, the Kenya Bureau of Standards and the Kenya Revenue Authority have been involved in the investigation of the illegal trade.

 Detectives have been allowed by a Mwingi court to detain the driver for 14 days to complete their investigations before pressing charges.