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Daily Nation : February 3rd 2014
2 Though possession and shipment of human remains is legal in many parts of the world, it doesn’t mean they are easy to come by — and they’re not cheap. The website for Skulls Unlimited, which describes itself as ‘the World’s Leading Supplier of Osteological Specimens’, sells human skulls for up to Sh168,000. The Berkeleybased Bone Room sells complete ‘Standard Human Skeleto’ online for Sh475,000. In Burundi, that seems too attractive for some entreprising fellows BY MARGOT KISER The Daily Beast B UJUMBURA, Burundi: In the evenings when the hippo emerges from the depths of Lake Tanganyika to graze its grassy shores, members of Bujumbura’s expatriate community gather at the various waterholes that ring the lake. At the Italian-owned Kiboko Bar in “Buja,” everyone — from the local media and Dutch soldiers to Catholic nuns — stops in to knock back cold Skols, the local brew, and gaze at the resource-rich Intombwe Mountains across the border in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Unlike its famous neighbour, Rwanda, the tiny landlocked country of Burundi is difficult to locate on a map. Even Kenya, to the east, considers the former Belgian colony “the back of beyond.” In most African expatriate communities, everyone knows or has heard of one another. Few Burundi residents, though, claim they have ever seen or heard of Giuseppe Favaro, whose recent arrest for attempting to smuggle human skulls into Asia caused jaws to drop — and sent residents running to cemeteries to make sure ancestors were still buried with their heads intact. On October 25 last year, Favaro, a one-time dealer of Venetian antiques in his native Italy, strolled into Bujumbura’s main post office with three large cardboard boxes, according to law enforcement authorities. On the shipping form he declared that one of the boxes contained a camera, and the other two “organic material”, according to the general director of civil aviation at Bujumbura’s international airport. Salvador Nizigiyamana, the General of the Post Office, later said at a press conference that Favaro left the post office when he realised that he did not have enough cash to ship all three parcels (he ended up mailing only two). According to police, Favaro returned at 5pm, just before closing. Bujumbura’s post office requires its customers to leave parcels open for postal clerks to inspect before sending. The clerk, however, did not open either of Favaro’s sealed boxes for inspection and instead forwarded them to the airport, where 23 years of experience at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport had taught Albert Maniratunga, the airport general director, a thing or two about smuggled cargo. On the day I visited him, Maniratunga wore a white three-piece suit with blue pinstripes and beamed proudly when he talked about the unique and unprecedented seizure, which he said he owed mainly to new imaging software recently donated by the French government. It was this technology that made it possible for Burundian Civil Aviation Authorities to grab about 29 kilogrammes of ivory, with a street value of about Sh34 million, at Bujumbura’s airport last July. When airport security scanned Favaro’s boxes, instead of cameras, they saw the silhouettes of two white domes inside. “The skulls (were) human and belonged to two young adults,” Maniratunga said, noting that he called a forensic expert to inspect them along with two disarticulated jawbones, also found inside the boxes. The director general said he suspected the skulls (were) from the Congo. On the shipping invoice that Maniratunga showed to The Daily Beast, the packages had been addressed to an individual in Chiang Mai, Thailand. But police had never heard of “Kassim, A” — the name written as the sender. A law enforcement team of local police and investigators from Le Service National Renseignement (National Security Services) launched an investigation and they now claim that Kassim Abdoulgani was an alias that Giuseppe Favaro had been using for over a decade. According coverstory DAILY NATION Monday February 3, 2014 Shhh! When people find out there is cash in human skulls, the dead will not be safe in their graves! With the war in Burundi, the dead are buried anywhere, including mass graves. It is not difficult to obtain all kinds of ‘ossement’. People offered me (human) heads and hands, but I never knew if they were serious. — Patrice Faye, a French herpetologist, crocodilewrangler, and former long-time resident of Bujumbura to the investigation team, Kassim is the surname of Favaro’s ex-wife. On October 31, police officers went to Favaro’s house near the lake and, according to a senior officer with Burundi’s National Security Services, who wishes not to be identified, said they found the greying 56-year-old inside “trembling”. The security officer told The Daily Beast that a few days later, authorities detained a 60-year-old Burundi-born Congolese man whom Favaro had reportedly fingered as his main supplier of tribal artefacts and human skulls. The same source said another Congolese man was also jailed on suspicion of being another supplier of Favaro’s. Soon after the arrest of the tribal art dealer and his alleged suppliers, Maniratunga and the head of the National Postal Administration, Salvador Nizigiyamana, announced to local press that law enforcement officials had recovered another 38 human craniums. According to the police report later shown to The Daily Beast, the additional skulls were found in Favaro’s “office”, one of a series of windowless bunkers on the lakeside compound of Favaro’s GROUP EDITORIAL DIRECTOR: Joseph Odindo GROUP MANAGING EDITOR: Mutuma Mathiu FEATURES EDITOR: Bernard Mwinzi REVISE EDITOR: Mary Wasike SUB-EDITOR: Naliaka Wafula PHOTO EDITOR: Joan Pereruan CHIEF GRAPHIC DESIGNER: Roger Mogusu GRAPHIC DESIGNERS: Nzisa Mulli, Andrew Anini, Dennis Makori, Alice Othieno, Michael Mosota, Ken Kusimba, Hassan Ibrahim, Benjamin Situma, Joy Abisagi, Virginia Borura, Teddy Murimi, Linus Ombette REPORTER: Joy Wanja COVER GRAPHIC AND CONCEPT: Dennis Makori neighbour, a 70-year-old German expatriate. The septuagenarian was present during the search, according to the report. “He was scared, but we had no intention of arresting him,” said the senior intelligence source. “He seemed unaware that the skulls were being stored there.” All told, police say they recovered 41 human skulls connected to the Italian tribal art dealer. (Apparently, soon after Favaro’s arrest, a parcel destined for China containing one skull had been returned to the Bujumbura post office. The name “Kassim, A” was written as its sender). On the phone, Harimenshi Hermenegilde, the spokesman for Bujumbura police, declined to say whether Favaro had been formally charged with an offence and explained that “the case has been turned over to prosecution and is still being processed”. Edouard Ngendakumana, Favaro’s defence lawyer, told The Daily Beast via phone: “We are waiting (for the case) to be heard before the appeals court… and are trying to obtain (Favaro’s) release on bail.” Ngendakumana declined to is published every week by Nation Media Group Limited. It is distributed free with every Daily Nation. Unsolicited manuscripts, artwork, transparencies are submitted at the sender’s risk. While every care will be taken on receipt of such material, the Nation Media Group Limited cannot accept responsibility for accidental loss or damage. ©Nation Media Group Limited, 2009. All rights reserved.
February 2nd 2014
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