Media reports indicate that Deputy US Embassy Chief of Mission Michael Gonzales has been detained and is being questioned by Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) police on suspicion he tried to smuggle out a piece of ivory.
Trading of ivory is illegal, and Malawi in March this year burned 2.6 tonnes of ivory in Mzuzu after a court ordered its destruction, despite a cross-border dispute over whether the elephant tusks smuggled from Tanzania should be saved as legal evidence against poachers.
Tanzania had been protesting the torching of the 781 pieces of ivory arguing that the tusks were part of evidence to be brought before a Tanzanian court against poachers and had obtained a 90-day stay order in September after Malawi indicated it was going to burn the stockpile.
The elephant tusks were set alight outside a nature sanctuary in the small northern city of Mzuzu, 480 kilometres (300 miles) from the administrative capital Lilongwe.
In 2013, the Malawi Revenue Authority impounded the ivory, valued at nearly $3 million, at the Songwe border post from alleged smugglers travelling from Dar es Salaam to Lilongwe.
It is believed that the suspects in Tanzania had been in cahoots with two Malawian brothers, Chancy and Patrick Kaunda, to transport the ivory to Lilongwe, but the two were intercepted, arrested and later fined $5,500 for their part in trafficking the tusks by Malawi High Court in 2015.
Tanzania had won a three-month court order to postpone the burning until it concludes the case in Dar es Salaam.
Malawian judge Dingiswayo Madise on March 2, 2016 ordered the government to burn the ivory on March 14 publicly after Tanzania failed to apply for a further delay.
Ironically, the government of Malawi, despite expressing commitment to end ivory trade, secretly sought a court injunction but Justice Madise threw out the application on Friday, March 11.