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Police in Nyeri chasing after escaped gang stumble on Sh5m stolen coffee

By Allan Mungai | Published Sun, December 18th 2016 at 22:35, Updated December 18th 2016 at 22:41 GMT +3
Police move some of the coffee that was recovered from a residential house in Mutathini, Tetu constituency, Nyeri County. The main suspect, a firewood vendor, is on the run. [PHOTO: MOSE SAMMY/STANDARD]

Police on Sunday morning recovered sacks of stolen coffee inside a local timber and firewood vendor's house.

The recovery, in a residential area in Muthathiini in Tetu Constituency, Nyeri, was an unexpected climax in a dramatic series of events set off by the gunning down of two men in a botched robbery.

The two were shot dead in a robbery attempt on a bar at Gatitu along the Nyeri–Karatina Highway.

The loot estimated to be worth millions of shillings, was discovered stashed in two rooms in an incomplete residential house, as police trailed three suspected robbers who had escaped after the shoot out.

Police also recovered one of the two motorcycles that were used in the robbery. The gang of five had broken into the bar at Gatitu shopping centre at around 5am.

One of those killed was a former soldier.

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The coffee was discovered in a house belonging to a local timber and firewood vendor who was wanted by police for the early morning robbery.

However, he is yet to be arrested.

Ironically, police said, the suspect was released on bond just two weeks ago. He is facing criminal charges at the Nyeri Law Courts.

A manhunt has been launched for the suspect and police have appealed to anyone with information on his whereabouts to alert the authorities.

Inside the house, the coffee was stored in separate rooms with about 10 full, 90-kilogramme bags of the premium quality grade AA coffee stashed in a smaller more secure room.

Tetu Sub County Commissioner, Herman Shambi, said the discovery was a breakthrough in the fight against coffee theft.

"This is the gang that is behind coffee thefts. Others are on the run but we will make sure they are brought to book", he said.

As the coffee harvesting season in the country unfolds, farmers of the crop are a wary lot, especially after growing incidences of theft reported in the recent past.

Coffee farmers have been victims of brazen attacks that have seen armed robbers breach perimeter walls and fences, making away with bags of coffee worth millions of shillings, and leaving death and destruction in their wake.

Most of the coffee targeted by the gangs is the unmilled premium grade P1, P2 and AA. 

This year alone, over 1,000 bags of the crop have been whisked away from coffee factories in Mt Kenya region, with Nyeri County being the hardest hit.

But, despite numerous such incidents occurring in the region over the past two years, security agencies have been unable to solve the mystery of where the stolen coffee was hidden.

Sunday's discovery was a break-though to the mystery of the disappearance of coffee from factories which is prevalent in parts of Mt Kenya Region especially Nyeri, Kirinyaga and Murang'a.

Of the thousands of bags of coffee stolen this year, this is the first  discovery that police have made.

Farmers have pointed an accusing finger at factory managers whom they accused of colluding with police and coffee cartels to make away with the coffee.

However, aside from night guards, no one has been arraigned in court in connection with the theft.

Millers and private estates have also been dragged into the blame game. They are the only ones who have the requisite permits to transport coffee without raising suspicion.

It is not yet clear when or where the coffee parchment netted yesterday was stolen. Residents living near the house where it was discovered suggested that the most recent consignment could have been delivered on Friday.

"We usually hear a lot of lorries coming and going especially at night but we always thought it was timber or cement for the construction being delivered," said one neighbour.

Police are investigating the possibility that the suspect was using his firewood business as a cover for coffee theft operations.

Neighbours said vehicles, mainly spacious 'Probox' station wagons, drove in and out of the house regularly.