Cyanide: The Plot Thickens

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK A full-scale police investigation got underway yesterday at Uis where detectives are trying to gather leads on the whereabouts of a huge amount of potassium cyanide, an extremely dangerous chemical that was allegedly stolen during a break-in at a nightclub at the town. Due to the peril posed by the stolen chemicals that could kill thousands of people if inhaled or ingested, the police are working at feverish pace to unravel the case. They dispatched a team of specialised police units to Uis yesterday. Confirming the latest developments to New Era yesterday, the regional crime investigation coordinator for the Erongo Region, Detective Chief Inspector Sydney Philander said the police are already at Uis combing the crime scene for clues. The latest developments were triggered after the owner of Sunrise Club in Uis, Frans Madl, approached New Era worried about the potential danger these chemicals could cause if they fall into the wrong hands. A rather agitated Madl said that 10 kilograms of the highly poisonous substance were stored in a padlocked military steel trunk that was kept in a man-sized safe inside the nightclub. Madl, who’s a chemist by profession, fears that the potassium cyanide could easily wipe out an entire town’s population if people get exposed to it. “It’s enough to kill the whole population of Uis ten times over – this 10 kilograms of potassium cyanide,” stress-ed Madl, adding that “nobody knew about the trunk load of potassium cyanide that was securely kept in the safe”. Potassium cyanide, which is classified as a Group One hazardous chemical in medical standards, is a white deliquescent granular powder also found in the form of amorphous lumps, with a faint odour of bitter almonds. As a “highly toxic” chemical of which even a spoonful can kill many people instantly, it is therefore considered to be dangerous to humans. “You cannot handle it without gloves or a mask … if it lands in the wrong hands it can be very fatal,” says Medical Technologist Andra van Staden of Medlab Services. Yet, the plot thickens about the disappearance of the poisonous substance with contradicting versions emanating from Uis. While Madl and his fiancÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚©e Fransiska !Gaoses who runs the Sunrise Club say their place was broken into and the trunk of chemicals stolen, the police at Uis said there was no such case. Ironically, Madl did not report the crime to the police when it allegedly occurred, upset about the fact most of the previous numerous break-ins at the club were never taken up by the Uis police. So instead he chose to approach the media. New Era is in possession of a copy of a ‘Progress Report on Police Investigation’ stemming from Madl’s fiancÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚©e Fransiska reporting a case of assault with grievous bodily harm and robbery, the complaint made on June 14, 2004 with the police. According to Madl, nothing came out of that case, coupled with others. The police at Uis said that they had been to the scene yesterday and questioned the caretaker Gert de Bruin who informed them that there had never been a break-in of any kind at Sunrise Club. Meanwhile, New Era visited Fransiska at her residence in Windhoek after she arrived from Uis. She backed up her partner’s claims stating that the safe was found “completely empty” when she got to the scene. ” I don’t know how they opened the safe, but it was open and empty by the time I got there. Everything else was damaged and the intruders even defecated there as well,” said the mother of two children. She suspects that the intruders are well known to the town and said there were even witnesses who saw the burglary taking place. One neighbour at the town confirmed to New Era that she saw property being loaded onto vehicles in broad daylight. Meanwhile, Madl said he did not require a licence to possess the dangerous chemical substance since he was not using it and had kept it in the safe for more than ten years. However, experts in the environmental health department at the line ministry say that licences have to be issued when anyone is operating with hazardous substances like potassium cyanide. “We will take up the issue and send someone from the Erongo Region there urgently,” said Chief of Public Hygiene Gerald Benade at the Ministry of Health and Social Services. Requirements pertaining to acquiring such a licence under the Health and Safety Regulations of the Labour Act are that the person should submit an application form to the health ministry where all logistics are thoroughly checked. Requirements include a brick facility, safety with steel doors, no windows leading to the outside and security burglar bars and locks. Meanwhile, in response to the potassium cyanide story in New Era of yesterday the United States Embassy followed up the issue requesting details of Madl’s contact details. When asked by this paper why they were interested in the issue, the US Embassy e-mailed a statement saying the move was part of the US Government’s efforts to “routinely monitor events which could affect the security and safety of its citizens throughout the world, including the many who live, work, or are vacation in Namibia. “As is the case in any situation of this kind, we are working with appropriate Namibian authorities to gather all relevant information about the incident,” stated the e-mail New Era reliably learnt that this was done out of concern for the safety of some of the tourists who may have visited the town of Uis. NHE