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Grace Mugabe Linked to Alleged Ivory Smuggling in Zimbabwe

FILE - Grace Mugabe, addresses party supporters at a ZANU-PF Rally in Chinhoyi, July 29, 2017.
FILE - Grace Mugabe, addresses party supporters at a ZANU-PF Rally in Chinhoyi, July 29, 2017.

Police in Zimbabwe are investigating a case of alleged ivory smuggling linked to the wife of former leader Robert Mugabe, a police spokeswoman said Monday.

Authorities opened an investigation after a whistleblower came forward with information and no one has yet been charged, according to spokeswoman Charity Charamba.

"We are still investigating; maybe after the investigations we can ascertain the exact role of the former first lady," Charamba said. The Mugabes could not immediately be reached for comment.

Grace Mugabe's political ambitions intensified the national discontent that led to a military takeover and her 94-year-old husband's resignation in November. A former confidant of Robert Mugabe, Emmerson Mnangagwa, became president and has promised more transparency and accountability in the government.

Zimbabwe's national parks and wildlife agency has provided police with documents in the alleged ivory smuggling case, agency spokesman Tinashe Farawo said. When her husband was president, Grace Mugabe and senior members of her staff allegedly forced parks officials to sign export permits for ivory pieces without following procedure, Farawo said.

"For example, in October last year, one of our senior officers was threatened after refusing to sign a permit for pieces that were not physically there. He was hesitant to sign for ivory that he had not seen, but he ended up signing after intense pressure and threats from the former first lady's office," he said.

"The ivory would be smuggled under the guise of being gifts for dignitaries, but in many cases the so-called gifts were never shown to national parks. National parks has to physically see the ivory before the export permit is issued," Farawo said.

He said the exact quantity of ivory that was allegedly smuggled was being verified.

Zimbabwe's national parks teem with elephants and other big game. The wildlife agency says close to 900 elephants have been poached since 2013. The southern African country is estimated to have more than 82,000 elephants.