In a special report timed to coincide with the latest installment of the KTN investigation into drug trafficking, we unveil some of the untold secrets of the so-called Armenian mercenaries
Last year, KTN’s investigations team produced a daring expose of the cover-up that followed the seizure of Kenya’s largest ever cocaine haul in December 2004. In a series of television features tagged ‘Paruwanja la Mihadarati’ (Jicho Pevu) and ‘The Untouchables’ (Inside Story), the teams looked at the events surrounding the discovery of tonnes of cocaine in Malindi and Nairobi.
KTN Senior Investigative Editor MOHAMMED ALI and Senior Investigative Reporter DENNIS ONSARIGO disclosed how several tonnes of the cocaine went missing, how key suspects were allowed to escape and how two State prosecutions were deliberately mishandled.
They also shone a light on the drastic lengths to which Kenya’s drug barons and their friends in high places go to ensure their secrets remain protected. At least four police officers and one spy investigating or connected to drug-related cases have been killed in mysterious circumstances, the team reported.
The police dismissed this as “alarmist” or false reporting. However, they are yet to explain the five killings cited in the report adequately. Three of the killings were apparently extra-judicial murders by fellow police officers.
The February 2005 execution of General Service Unit adjutant Erastus Chemorei, for instance, has since been declared an illegal police killing by an inquest in Eldoret. Video evidence being held by the police can also prove conclusively that Administration Police officers Badi Mwajirani and Juma Mwagaatu were unlawfully killed in the manner reported by Ali and Onsarigo, vindicating KTN’s bold reporting.
Now, in a special report that began airing yesterday, Ali and Onsarigo hunt down the powerful forces that orchestrated the massive cover up.
To accompany their special reports, The Standard On Saturday and The Standard On Sunday will publish several supporting features on the saga, as well as on the latest revelations.
To get a full picture of this explosive investigation, watch ‘Paruwanja la Mihadarati’ and ‘The Untouchables’ on KTN during the Kiswahili and English language news bulletins.
By STANDARD ON SATURDAY TEAM, MOHAMMED ALI and DENNIS ONSARIGO
The foreign mercenaries whose activities infuriated Kenyans in early 2006 were brought into the country by rogue Government officials in response to the dramatic seizure of 1.1 metric tonnes of cocaine 15 months earlier, it has emerged.
The men were allegedly recruited to set up and train a specialised anti-narcotics unit. Publicly purporting to be investors and privately passing as security consultants, the foreigners — known locally as the ‘Artur brothers’ — have since been unmasked by multiple sources as impostors.
More than one source suggests the State was tricked into hiring enforcers working for drug traffickers who wanted to recover the Sh6.4 billion worth of cocaine being held in Kenya. The hired guns failed to complete their task after they were publicly exposed following their March 2, 2006, raid on the Standard Group. This was a bungled operation ordered on the strength of false information about an alleged story linking powerful individuals to drug trafficking in Kenya. No such story existed.
In the weeks after their presence became public, speculation about their true mission included accusations they were part of an assassination squad targeting several political figures. There was even a claim Opposition leaders had hired the men and should be arrested on treason charges. A security scare at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport about 12 weeks after the Standard raid finally saw the men kicked out of the country and disowned by State officials as “international criminals”.
The claims that the Arturs were forming a secret CID unit were first reported in confidential diplomatic cables in 2006 as uncorroborated information from a local politician. Kenya Police and Government officials have denied this, insisting the foreigners had forged police identification papers. However, investigations by Standard Group journalists show key State agents and politically connected people had a hand in bringing the men to Kenya and embedding several of them as senior police officers in the Criminal Investigations Department. This is why they received help and protection from various State agents who believed they were in Kenya on legitimate, Government-sanctioned operations.
This was also why an April 2006 meeting chaired by former Head of Public Service Francis Muthaura and attended by top security officials decided to take no action over the mercenaries despite an NSIS report that suggested they were drug dealers.
For about three months, the so-called Artur brothers had free run of Nairobi police stations from which they took vehicle number plates with which to disguise their unit’s cars. One of them even visited the secure installation where the 1,141kg of cocaine was being stored until two cases in court were completed.
Soldiers of fortune
The man who appeared to be their leader has been videotaped saying he was hired to set up a secret police unit to deal with drug trafficking using foreign “soldiers of fortune”. Artur Margaryan, who uses a false name, says this was why he was appointed a deputy police commissioner, serving under then CID boss Joseph Kamau. In a recent interview conducted via the online video-call service Skype, Mr Margaryan described the men he brought into the country as “Russian instructors” meant to train Kenyan law enforcement officials on tackling drug-related crime. He claims they were hired legally to set up a unit inside the CID that would tackle organised crime.
Margaryan is not considered a reliable source, having lied publicly about his dealings with key opposition figures. The false allegations he made at press conferences in 2006 were part of a strategy to distract attention from other accusations being made against him.
However, his claims of a secret unit echo remarks allegedly made by a senior opposition figure in March 2006 in a conversation with American diplomats in Nairobi.
A US diplomatic cable leaked by the Wikileaks whistle-blowing site claims the former minister said a prominent political activist and her allies at State House and in the Police force had attempted to set up a secret unit in the CID. These are the same people Margaryan names as his local contacts.
We could not determine whether Margaryan has read the diplomatic cable, which is available online.
The report of a joint parliamentary team investigating the Artur saga named Narc activist Mary Wambui, then CID boss Joseph Kamau and former Special Advisor to the President Stanley Murage as key players in the Artur saga. Also named was the Internal Security minister at the time, John Michuki. Both Kamau and Murage, said to be allies of Wambui, were shunted out of their positions after the Artur saga exploded into the public domain.
Our investigations have identified at least six accomplices of the so-called ‘Artur brothers’ who entered Kenya around 2006. Like Artur Margaryan and Artur Sargasyan, some of the six men used several false names and travel documents to move in and out of the country when conducting their activities.
Most were from Eastern bloc or former Soviet Union countries and have been described by American diplomats as being possibly Russians, Bosnians or Ukrainians.
Other sources say the men were enforcers for the Russian mafia, which has been linked to the drug trade in Latin America and is made up of criminals from Eastern bloc nations. The Arturs themselves insist they are Armenian nationals, a matter that is the subject of debate.
Two or more of these men were allowed to remain in the country after the Government staged a fake deportation to get rid of four of them.
Mr Richard Nerima, a former police officer who was then working for the Artur’s local contact, businessman Rajendra Sanghani, recently told KTN’s investigative team he counted eight men in the group, including the two ‘brothers’.
Reports from two official investigations into the activities of the group show the eight men used as many as 16 different names on fake documents from several countries to hide their identities. Some of the names and travel documents were shared between several people.
The parliamentary report also concluded that then Immigration minister Gideon Konchellah was involved in staging a fake deportation of Margaryan, Sargasyan, Dmitri Taschi and Alexander Pack on Mr Michuki’s instructions.
The circumstances around the ‘deportation’ suggest the men were helped to flee to Dubai after the airport gun incident that sparked calls for their arrest. Two Tanzanian men hired as bodyguards for the group, identified as Lucas Makena and Nobert Ntwenya, were escorted to the Namanga border point and allowed to leave. Shifana Alarakya, the Kenyan woman found in the Runda house, has never been charged as a suspect or accomplice in any crime. Neither have Aloise Omita, Julius Maina and Raju Sanghani, three Kenyans who they relied upon for various facilitation services.
The fate of at least three other men who were in the group remains a mystery. Nyarkashan Trenor, Manish Yadav and Aman Qureshi vanished into thin air after the alleged deportation of the Arturs.
The question of where these mercenaries came from has also never been answered. While they claimed to be Armenians, their suspect travel documents linked them to Russia and Moldovia. Government officials allowed the group to use obviously fake papers to avoid a paper trail that would help unmask them.
Responding to a question in Parliament a month after the Arturs led a raid on the Standard Group, Mirugi Kariuki, an assistant minister in the Office of the President, claimed the Armenian Government had confirmed Margaryan and Sargasyan were Armenian citizens. Konchellah later claimed they were Czechs.
Both these statements have since been proven false.
Responding to questions from KTN’s Mohammed Ali and Dennis Onsarigo via Skype from Dubai, Artur Margaryan insisted he was Armenian and had been hired legally to help the police track down drug traffickers. He claims he had been prepared to provide evidence to the public inquiries into the matter but was prevailed upon by Mr Murage not to do so. Murage ended a phone interview with Ali and Onsarigo before he could be asked about this.
The former Special Advisor to the President is one of several people whose connections with the group Parliament wants investigated. A report prepared by a joint team co-chaired by Mr Paul Muite and Mr Ramadhan Kajembe also wanted to look into the roles played by then Internal Security minister John Michuki (now deceased), Francis Muthaura, Mary Wambui, Winnie Wangui, Raju Sanghani and Kamlesh Pattni.
No public action has been taken to pursue this line of thinking. As a result, those named remain the beneficiaries of an embarrassed Government’s reluctance to shine a light on one of the more bizarre incidents in Kenya’s security history.
Additional reporting by the ‘Standard On Saturday’ team and the Standard Group’s Convergence Desk. Mohammed Ali is a Senior Investigative Editor with KTN, the broadcasting arm of The Standard Group. Dennis Onsarigo is an Investigative Reporter with KTN.