U.S. Indicts Two Congolese with theft, sale of free malaria drugs

Two Congolese men have been federally accused for stealing loads of malaria drugs sent to Africa by American taxpayers and selling them on the black market.

It marks the latest in a series of scandals to rock a multi-billion-dollar U.S. government program that provides Africa with heaps of malaria drugs every year. For nearly a decade, millions of dollars in malaria drugs are stolen annually and sold on the black market.

The government agency that operates the program, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), knows about it yet continues to fund it. In fact, more than five years ago a mainstream newspaper published a scandalous exposé (“Thieves Hijacking Malaria Drugs in Africa”) detailing how organized networks steal large quantities of donated malaria drugs that end up for sale at street markets throughout Africa.

According to the indictment, in 2011, USAid workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo discovered significant quantities of PMI-funded anti-malarial drugs, including Coartem, being sold in various markets in the capital Kinshasa.

On further investigation, USAid found that some of the Coartem was also being distributed to markets in other sub-Saharan African countries, including Malawi, Angola, Mozambique, Zambia, Benin, Zimbabwe, and Ghana.

Mr Djessa, Mr Ohoyo, and other suspects are said to have been operating a scheme that diverted the PMI-funded Coartem for resale on the wholesale black market in Kinshasa and neighbouring Congo’s capital Brazzaville.

Between January 2013 and September 2015, agents from the USAid Office of Inspector General, conducted numerous undercover purchases of the donor-funded drugs from Mr Djessa and Mr Ohoyo in Kinshasa, and from a co-conspirator in Brazzaville, the indictment states.

“The undercover officers posed as businessmen who wanted to purchase large quantities of Coartem on the black market for resale to their purported clients. An undercover officer initially purchased Coartem from a co-conspirator in Brazzaville, who, in February 2013, introduced them to Mr Ohoyo as a supplier in Kinshasa.

“Approximately one year later, after the undercover officer had made several additional purchases of PMI-funded Coartem from Mr Ohoyo, the latter introduced the undercover agent to Mr Djessa as Mr Ohoyo’s supplier,” the indictment reads.

Mr Djessa is said to have claimed that he was the main supplier of Coartem in the DRC, Congo, and Angola, and that he had a supplier in Tanzania. He reportedly told the undercover agent that he could supply as much Coartem as wanted.

Altogether, the undercover agents purchased almost 2,100 dispenser boxes of Coartem from Mr Djessa and Mr Ohoyo, for approximately $63,000, the indictment notes.

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