United States (US) deputy chief of mission in Malawi Michael Gonzales has wrapped up his tour of duty in Lilongwe after the end of his three-year diplomatic term but his embassy said he “was not arrested” on departure as reported only confirming his luggage was detained .
Police at Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) in Lilongwe on Wednesday detained the diplmat’s his suitcase after luggage screening machines detected what appeared to be an ivory carving in it.
US Embassy in Malawi confirmed that Gonzalez suitcase had merely been subjected to a thorough security check before the luggage and the diplomat got cleared and proceeded with the trip.
“As happens with all air passengers, his [Gonzales’] suitcase was scanned by authorities and the authorities saw something in the scan that warranted further inspection. They took the baggage aside and they opened it and they determined that the item was a very tiny one in the shape of an elephant.
“After further inspection, they determined that there was no reason for extra concern. The luggage was cleared and Mr. Gonvales departed as planned,” explained US Embassy public affairs officer Edward Monster as quoted in the press.
But Gonzalez had to leave his carving in the hands of the airport police for further inspection.
The diplomat is set for a new posting in the US diplomatic service.
Malawi has tightened security at its airports and borders to arrest illegal trade in wildlife trophies such as ivory.
The US embassy has since commended Malawi authorities for noticing the questionable item in the suitcase of the diplomat, saying they should be doing that with any potentially illegal item.