The containers, which weighed some 80 tonnes of wet salted hides were then valued at $150,000, according to sources, but the traders indicated they were worth $84,000. Wet-blue hides are normally exported free of duty.

But the customs regulator claims the owners of the consignment had failed to show up to claim the goods, and that efforts to trace them had proved futile, raising serious suspicions among stakeholders.

The Guardian on Sunday reported that they have since confirmed that the consignment belonged to influential Pakistani traders who hold strong connections within the local sector.

According to reliable sources, the Pakistanis maintain a strong connection with key people at the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries Development who are alleged to have helped them navigate the illegal export of raw skins and hides for quite sometime now.

The traders reportedly use different names to clear their goods, or even fake documents to bypass TRA officials at the port who either knowingly or unwittingly approve the export documents.

In most cases, the fake documents claim the raw materials were in transit from Burundi or Rwanda, according to a senior customs official who confided that there were, in fact, no records of such goods in transit.

“We have confirmed with our officers at the border points that no raw skins or hides entered the country from either Burundi or Rwanda,” he said. The official who declined to be named since he was not an authorized spokesperson said there were “clear indications that the traders have very strong connections. They are able to operate freely.”

In an interview with The Guardian on Sunday last week, customs deputy commissioner Patrick Kisaka agreed that the authority had failed to identify the owners of the seized containers and now wants to auction the goods.

He said the raw hides worth Sh163.5 million (about US$1 million) were now being held at the customs warehouse awaiting public auction later this month.

“We proved that the containers contained raw hides and since the owners have not come to claim them we will auction them to recover revenue,” he said.

According to the deputy commissioner, the authority has not been able to trace the owner for lack of clear information on their whereabouts.

“It is quite strange that TRA can claim that they do not know even the clearing agent who was working on behalf of the traders,” wondered a member of the Leather Association of Tanzania (LAT) who did not want to be named.

His comments come at a time when Tanzania Tanners Association (TTA) now wants the authority to reveal those behind the trade.

Speaking to the Guardian on Sunday, TTA Chairman, Onorato Garavaglia said TRA has acted suspiciously on the matter since the containers were seized with no whereabouts of the owners, could mean there is a hidden agenda on the matter.

“There is something fishy as the whole delay could mean some cover up on those who were involved in the illegal trade,” he said. He called on the government to auction the raw hides and take stern measures on the clearing agent involved and the owners of the consignment.

He said the local tanneries have been going without raw materials while illegal traders export them outside the country. 

Statistics show that before July last year only about 30% of hides and skins produced in Tanzania reached the market while the rest was exported as raw stock for processing abroad.

The potential annual hides and skin production, according to government records, amount to about 3.8 million bovine hides, 2.4 million goat skin and 2.2 million sheep skin.

Hides and skin collections average less than 50 per cent of potential slaughter; that is: 2.4 million cattle hides, 900,000 goatskins, and 400,000 sheepskins.

But the situation has worsened since the government in the 2012-13 budget increased the export tax on raw hides and skins to encourage value addition.

Source: Guardian on Sunday Tanzania