Millions of unsuspecting consumers may have been exposed to poisonous sugar on sale in several parts of the country disguised as local brands.
Police investigators are narrowing down on sugar barons running a complex syndicate said to involve powerful individuals peddling the commodity, said to be unfit for human consumption.
A contingent of top State officials led by Deputy Head of Public Service Wanyama Musiambo, Inspector-General of Police Joseph Boinnet and DCI George Kinoti led a Monday night raid in Eastleigh, Nairobi, where part of the consignment was found in a huge godown.
Mr Kinoti said the sugar, which was being repackaged as local brands including Kabras, West Sugar and a range of other little-known names, had been tested and found to contain substances harmful to human health.
The tests, which were carried out between Monday and Friday this past week, alarmed the officials who said the chemicals found in the samples taken to the Government Chemist are capable of causing internal organ damage if consumed.
One consignment in the Eastleigh raid was found to be particularly concentrated with harmful substances, results that have shocked security officers involved in the raid that is set to spread to various parts of the country.
The results are expected to be made public any day from tomorrow, a move that is likely to cause panic among consumers and retailers across the country.
“These people are selling poison. I have seen the results and I am certain about this. The fear now is that it has been spread far and wide,” Mr Kinoti said on Friday.
“We have arrested three suspects who are helping with investigations. We will be going for everyone involved, including government officials who may have facilitated this commodities to end up in the market.”
The Eastleigh raid netted close to 60 tonnes of the contraband commodities, including an assortment of rice and cooking oil. It took eight full lorries to cart away the contraband.
Contacted by the Nation, Mr Ramar Sangaiah, Head of Agriculture at West Kenya Sugar Company, said the firm had received information about the trade.
“We have received reports that some unscrupulous traders could be branding smuggled sugar in packages similar to ours. We have communicated the same to the management for appropriate action. Our customers have been complaining about the quality of our sugar and we are investigating the matter.”
So smart is the cartel that investigators are finding it difficult to trace the origin of the contraband sugar.
Police had a hard time sorting fake importation documents indicating the sugar may have come from Uganda, Brazil and Dubai.
The sugar scandal prompted Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i to visit the Busia border post on Thursday. Sugar in unlabelled bags was said to have been impounded in the region in what is believed to be part of the consignment.
At the Eastleigh godown, a complete packaging set-up with weighing, sewing and sealing machines was found. There were also printing machines used to label the sacks and smaller packages before they are sneaked out to the market.
There were also Kenya Bureau of Standards stickers said to be either a perfect imitation or sourced from the agency through corrupt officials.
A local resident told the Sunday Nation that some godowns in the area receive goods in the dead of the night with organised power blackouts sometimes reportedly occasioned whenever the lorries arrive.
“We are looking into the source of the Kebs stickers used on these products and we are going to narrow down on the officials involved as well,” Mr Kinoti warned.
A sugar shortage last year opened a duty-free importation window which saw the country’s stockpile hit a high of 1.3 million metric tonnes against the annual consumption of about 890,000 metric tonnes.
The flooded market has given cartels the leeway to sneak in some of their bad quality sugar which is being sold to unsuspecting consumers.
A quick check through retail stores in Nairobi found different brands of sugar with retailers’ names and others simply labelled “sugar”. They all retail at an average of Sh100 a kilo.
Consumer Federation of Kenya secretary-general Stephen Mutoro said the lobby had received complaints over certain local brands being used to sell bad quality sugar.
“We are still receiving similar concerns from consumers and we will soon expose two brands notoriously being used by smugglers. The big question, however, is who is behind these imports? Where do they pass through? I think Kebs has totally let down consumers; there is no way a product gets strange branding without details of who made it or where it came from,” Mr Mutoro said.
The Cofek official called for a strong market regulator to control the infiltration of certain brands giving unscrupulous traders the leeway to sneak harmful products into the market.
Interestingly, as much as the imported sugar is said to be way cheaper than locally manufactured sugar, the window to rebrand it with local brand names allows traders to price it like locally manufactured sugar.