Kenya prosecutors block `ivory kingpin` bail release

Mombasa: Kenyan prosecutors on Thursday successfully blocked a controversial decision to grant bail to the suspected ringleader of a global ivory smuggling gang, arguing he may again try to flee the country.

Appealing to the High Court, a top state prosecutor said the judge who agreed to allow Feisal Mohammed Ali out of custody pending trial had “completely ignored the fact that he is a fugitive who was brought to court under a warrant of arrest”.

Ali is charged with possession of and dealing in elephant tusks weighing more than two tonnes — equivalent to at least 114 slaughtered elephants and worth an estimated $4.5 million (4.2 million euros). He was arrested while on the run in neighbouring Tanzania.

Prosecutors allege he is a key player in the organised crime network stretching from African parks to Asian markets, where demand for ivory is high, and he figured on an Interpol “Most Wanted” list of suspects linked to crimes against the environment.

“The accused was, several months after the complaint was registered in court, arrested outside the country, effectively outside the jurisdiction of the trial court,” state prosecutor Alexander Muteti said. “Therefore, under the circumstances, he remains a flight risk.”

The appeal came the day after a Mombasa court agreed to release Ali on a 10 million shilling (102,000 euro) bond on medical grounds, with the magistrate saying he did not believe Ali — who denies all charges — would would try to flee again.

That decision was met with outrage among wildlife campaigners, who said setting him free undermined a case seen as a test of Kenya`s willingness and ability to prosecute cases linked to the mounting slaughter of African wildlife.

Paula Kahumbu, head of the conservation organisation Wildlife Direct, had branded the bail ruling as “ridiculous”, while Frank Pope of Save the Elephants labelled it “depressing”.

The ivory haul to which Ali has been linked was discovered by Kenyan police in June when they raided a car dealership in Mombasa, after which Ali fled to Tanzania.

After Thursday`s hearing, High Court Justice Martin Muya ruled that Ali should remain in custody pending full arguments for and against the bail ruling are heard.

“The accused (must) be placed in custody pending the hearing and determination of this appeal,” the judge ruled.