By PAUL GITAU
Those who have always suspected that Malindi has become an extension of the Italian region of Sicily have even greater reason to worry.
The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) says it has evidence that the coastal town is firmly in the grip of the Italian Mafia, which controls and compromises the administration of justice.
It is generally easy for international criminals to hide in Africa because of its weak law enforcement systems and porous borders but Mr Mutua says the case of Malindi is one of the worst.
He says for a long time the Italian Mafia has had immense influence over the security apparatus and judicial system in Malindi, enabling “a climate of impunity” to hold sway.
“They have taken full control of Malindi. They are in control of police, courts and lawyers,” he told The County Weekly in an interview.
“Malindi is controlled by foreigners. They have established a club of impunity. The town is full of foreign thieves and it is very easy for anyone to come and stay here,” added Mr Mutua.
But coast police boss Aggrey Adoli dismisses the allegations by the LSK boss saying police have arrested many criminals who have been hiding in Malindi and other coastal towns.
The police boss, however, admits that because of the huge tourism industry, Malindi has been a magnate for European fraudsters, many of whom sneak in as tourists and stay on.
“Some come as tourists or to attend weddings and eventually find their way into the country,” he told The County Weekly.
Malindi-based government officials, lawyers and local residents have been unwilling to speak about the issue with our journalists as though they were sworn to a code of silence.
Well-placed sources say most of the criminals who have turned Malindi into their hideout come from Italy, Germany and eastern European countries and the majority engage in drug trafficking.
But there is also growing concern about criminals arriving at the Kenyan coast from Pakistan, Ethiopia and West Africa to engage in drug trade, pimping, gambling and other criminal activities.
Besides engaging in the international drugs trade, many of the Westerners also commit forgery including faking their own deaths to avoid detection.
The County Weekly has seen a list of Western Europeans caught with narcotics and although official records indicate that some are serving jail terms, it is not clear whether they are actually in custody.
Some of those named in the list are believed to have visited the Coast and hidden there for years benefiting from police and other local patronage.
They include Joachim Mosser, an Austrian charged in 2007 with possessing two kilogrammes of cocaine. Records show he is serving 20 years. In 2003 an Italian, De Sio Ciro was found with 5.639 kilogrammes of heroin and was jailed for eight years and fined Sh1 million.
An American born in 1951 committed suicide in jail while on trial after being found with 17.4 kilogrammes of cocaine.
British national Reginald Terrence Johnstone was jailed for 18 months after arriving with 1.09 kilogrammes of hashish after flying from London to Mombasa through Nairobi in 2001.
Others are Pluck-Geb Foranzan-Siegleinde, a German police claim was arrested with 1,681.3 grammes of cocaine in 2009 but was acquitted under section 215 of the Criminal Procedure Code. Another German, Berthold Clemens Schollitorn, is serving a life sentence in jail besides a fine of Sh28million imposed in 2009 for drug possession.
Officials within the police, Immigration and judicial departments however blame each other for the problem of criminals on the run and foreigners’ impunity and involvement in crime, accusing one another of failing to disclose vital information on fugitives.
A court official who asked not to be named told The County Weekly in Malindi that the Attorney General's office does not share information on warrants issued against any local foreign residents.
Mr Adoli also claimed that local police rarely get access to this information.
The police boss admits fugitives exist in the region adding that they do so with the assistance of local contacts and foreign brokers that have lived in the coastal towns for years.
"They cannot live here without local support. They (fugitives) also have the support of contacts who have been here for sometime," he said.
One of the reasons Malindi could be hosting many criminals without detection is because almost all of them are hosted in private villas instead of hotels.
Europeans are also accused of evading paying taxes own the villas and mandatory tourism levies.
The foreigners use the private villas to conduct commerce away from the scrutiny of Government while others sell drugs and run prostitution rings from their hideouts.
Many of the traders use third parties to procure goods and register equipment and vehicles with fraudulent spouses.
Mr Adoli admitted that police do not inspect villas because they would be accused of flouting civil and personal rights. But the claim is disputed by activists who say that the police are on the take from the owners of the villas.
Two years ago the Catering and Tourism Development Levy Trust CTDLT confirmed losing Sh800 million annually from non-remittance of levies by these villas.
CTDLT Chief Executive Officer Allan Chenane was quoted saying most of the private villas were operating secretly by accommodating tourists at their establishment yet they were not paying the legal two per cent levy.
Mr Chenane said a research conducted by his organisation revealed they were losing Sh480 milion per year from the all-inclusive packages at the villas and another Sh260 million annually from the home stay.
Also not spared is the Kenya Revenue Authority, whose officials estimate it is losing more than Sh500 million as a result of tax evasion by owners of the villas.
It is estimated that Malindi has more than 3,500 private villas, some of which house fugitives who blend easily within the town.
Mr Adoli also agreed that the large Italian population in Malindi may act as a cover for fake tourists and criminals in circumstances where there is reluctance to screen tourists.
"Italian investors now control most of the beach properties in Malindi," he said adding that the Italians are now some of the largest landowners in this area.
According to court sources, Giovanni De Caro is the only Italian who has successfully been charged and repatriated from Kenya in recent years although independent accounts show many more are in hiding.
Court records show that cases involving many Western suspects take long to conclude.
For example, the case of Italian Diego Rituch, who was charged five years ago, has been pending in court and has never been prosecuted for unknown reasons.