In a bizarre turn of events, Chileka Police Station in Blantyre recently turned into a free-for-all battleground as police officers and civilians scrambled for bags of charcoal that had been impounded from illegal dealers.
But police say the decision by forestry officials to rush into selling the impounded charcoal without following procedures led to the chaos two weeks ago.
The drama panned out during the afternoon of January 25 2013 as officials from the Department of Forestry were selling two truckloads of the charcoal at Chileka Police.
Assistant district forestry officer Chisomo Masanjala described the scene as unusually crowded with buyers.
“Because of the poor crowd control, people took advantage of the situation and started pulling off bag by bag of charcoal from the trucks. Before long, many followed, including police officers that we engaged for security.
“Later, drivers of the trucks also took advantage and drove their vehicles out of the police compound, carrying the charcoal that was still on board. We are currently investigating the matter,” said Masanjala.
He said in the early hours of January 25, the department received a call from police officers patrolling Lunzu that they had impounded two 10-tonne Scania trucks.
According to Masanjala, since forestry officers work in collaboration with police, they decided to park the two trucks at Chileka Police Station until daylight.
He said such property is usually sold off to police, forestry staff and members of the public.
Masanjala said he was not sure about the number of bags impounded.
“We were yet to count them during offloading. No one has been arrested yet, but we know the owner of the trucks because it is not the first time his vehicles have been caught in this illegal business.
“He will be easily traced to face charges of illegal possession, trafficking and bolting from police custody,” he said.
Masanjala said the trucks could not be pursued because both police and forestry officers did not have transport at the time.
Southern Region Police spokesperson Nicholas Gondwa said police and forestry officials argued right from the site where the two trucks were impounded as they could not agree on how to handle the charcoal.
“The forestry officials wanted to proceed to their offices to dispose of the charcoal while our officers suggested a statement for court proceedings before anything else. Eventually, they agreed to take the charcoal to Chileka where the trucks were offloaded.
“Later, forestry officials came and started loading the bags onto one of the trucks to transport the charcoal to their offices. This was when one of the drivers saw an opportunity and drove off,” said Gondwa.