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Kenya smashes game park fee scam
A network that allegedly defrauded the Kenya Wildlife Service of millions of dollars has been broken, officials say.
Sixty-one suspects – KWS staff and tour guides and drivers – face prosecution for their alleged part in the scam, which cost up to $2.8m a year.
Smart card tickets for Kenya’s famous game parks were introduced in 2000 to combat theft but these, too, were now used fraudulently, a minister said.
Tourism is one of Kenya’s biggest foreign currency earners.
Tourism Minister Moris Dzoro said the scam was an inside job that had compromised the gains made in the tourism industry.
He said the fraudsters had set up their own centres, where they fabricated KWS stamps and ticketing systems.
In a raid at the homes and premises of some of the suspects, security officers recovered computers, diskettes and KWS smart cards that had been illegally loaded with the equivalent of millions of dollars, he said.
Twenty-three KWS staff and 38 tour drivers were arrested and are now facing prosecution.
“We are warning the fraudsters and their accomplices that the war on their illegal activities has just begun,” Mr Dzoro said.
“The arrest of the masterminds and the heinous rings behind these deals will not end until we are confident that fraud on KWS has been eradicated.”
The smart card ticketing was introduced in 2000, after it emerged that the organisation was losing $1.4m a year through fraud by KWS employees and tour operators.
But the BBC’s Josephat Makori says this offered no reprieve as fraudsters and their accomplices devised better and smarter ways to beat the system.
By the end of 2005, Mr Dzoro says the organisation realised that the smart card fraud had not only re-emerged, but that the annual losses had risen to $2.8m.
“Since the investigations began, we have recorded considerable earnings from gate revenues – a clear sign that these fraudsters were milking KWS dry,” he said.
Our reporter says the crackdown on the smart card fraudsters comes at a time when the tourism sector is struggling to emerge from lean times after several western countries issued travel warnings about visiting Kenya.