Kenya Bureau Standards body’s boss arrested after sugar scandal probes

KENYA – Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS), the government’s standards agency’s Managing Director Charles Ongwae has been arrested hours after the body confirmed that imported contraband sugar was contaminated with copper.

According to an article published by the Daily Nation, the standards boss was arrested alongside quality assurance and inspection director and head of the inspection department after being grilled at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations.

This was after imported sugar was seized on allegations that it was contaminated with mercury and copper, with several controversies around KEBs sticker marks.

The government launched an investigation into the ‘contaminated’ imported sugar, packaged locally under certain sugar company brands following accusations that KEBs officials were working in cahoots with traders allowing goods that are unfit for human consumption flood the market.

Recall of non-compliant sugar

Speaking to the Parliament, the MD said tests on impounded sugar samples had found high levels of copper, but did not find any traces of mercury as earlier reported.

He further confirmed that the controversial consignment of imported sugar already released into the market was contaminated with copper.

“During our testing of the sugar, we identified certain sugars that are not compliant with our standards and have recommended a recall of all non-complying sugar from the market,” Mr Ongwae told the National Assembly’s committee on Trade, Industry and Co-operatives.

According to him, subsequent tests for heavy metals in the contraband sugar was done after a public outcry, which showed certain imports had copper levels that are way above what is standard.

“There are certain limits set for copper in sugar. The limit is two milligrams per one kilo of sugar. The ones we sampled had 20.7 mg per kilogramme of sugar,” he added.

Documents tabled by Mr. Ongwae before the committee showed that white sugar brand, Kabras Premium, failed to meet the standard specification in copper, colour, polarization, total viable count as well as yeast and moulds.

Other products mentioned to have failed to meet standards included white sugar labelled as UGT African sugar and brown sugar packaged in blue bags.

“Generally, the bags were externally soiled indicative of poor handling and unclean storage,” Mr Ongwae said, adding that copper and other heavy metals may have contaminated the sugar during repackaging.

Fake Stickers

Daily Nation reported syndicate operating within the KEBs compound oversees the printing of the fake stickers by Madras Security Printers Private Limited, an Indian company contracted by the government to produce all mark-of-quality labels.

The fake stickers are then used by smugglers and counterfeiters.

Consumption of high levels of copper can lead to kidney failure, liver damage, death and symptoms include nausea, vomiting, bloody diarrhoea, fever, stomach pain, low blood pressure, anaemia, and heart problems.

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