A Cabinet Secretary and a governor should have been investigated for their alleged roles in a string of murders that rocked a land-buying company in Muranga, a judge has said.
The top officials who also include a county commissioner and senior police officers are alleged to have instigated the killings that haunted Kihiu Mwiri Farmers Company to silence opposition to illegal acquisition of part of the 1288 acres owned by the firm.
In a judgment acquitting four suspects charged with the murder of the firm’s four directors, High Court Judge Joel Ngugi noted that some witnesses were terrified by the mention of Breeze Farm during open proceedings.
The witnesses would later, in private, testify that the firm was associated with the Cabinet Secretary.
“I also met [XX, a prominent lawyer] about Breeze Farm. I also know that the Cabinet Secretary XX, Cabinet Secretary in the National Government] was one of the owners of breeze Farm. This was the name I did not want to mention. These are the three people I know that claim Breeze belongs to them,” the judge recounted one of the witnesses whose identity is protected testifying.
“I know that the security team in Murang’a beginning with the County Commissioner and the owners of Breeze are the ones who contributed to the security situation at Kihiu Mwiri…..I said in my statement that I suspect that it was Kariuki Macharia group that caused the death. I also know that Breeze Ltd was involved in the deaths. This was the true cause of the conflicts of Kihiu Mwiri,” the judgement quotes the witness saying.
The witness was referring to a rival group which the court heard carved out a prime parcel of land belonging to Kihiu Mwiri and sold it to the company which was owned by prominent people in Government.
The parcel which was hived out of Kihiu Mwiri, according to the witnesses, is called Breeze Farm.
It measures either 240 acres or 134 acres. Some witnesses said the sale agreement they had seen put it at 134 acres, but the actual land sold was 240 acres. The court was told that Breeze Farm is owned by a company called Breeze Ltd.
The judge noted that the desire by the powerful individuals to keep the land at all cost was one of the theories advanced for the brazen executions such as the one of Peter Kimani Kuria, who was shot inside his house by two gunmen in the presence of his wife and son in September 2014.
Kuria, who was running for chairmanship of Kihiu Mwiri, courted enemies because of his opposition to the use of fake certificates to sell bona fide members’ land and the sale of the company land to Breeze Ltd.
His son, Paul, testified that he saw the gunmen, one who had a “bigger” gun and after they had left he went to his father’s bedroom and found him lying on his back. He had been shot in the stomach and neck.
Paul told his mother that he had recognised the two assailants, but warned her not to tell anyone because he was afraid for their safety. He only mentioned the two names more than a year later, on May 13, 2016, when he was summoned to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) headquarters.
“There is definitely much to be said about a plausible theory of the murders which was seemingly neglected by the investigators: that the members of the Ministry of Interior working in the region; Senior Police Officers; and Senior Government Officials were heavily involved, and, indeed, may have funded the death and destruction that reigned in Kihiu Mwiri for almost a decade,” Justice Ngugi stated in his judgement on July 15.
“Evidence suggested that they did all that for land. Despite flakes and nuggets of this theory coming out from the prosecution witnesses, there does not appear to have been any efforts whatsoever to consider or pursue this theory,” the judge added.
The company that was formed in 1965 had until 2015 has been rocked by a series of assassinations and kidnappings. Up to 10 directors of the firm have been killed and at least five people have disappeared in the last two decades.
In 2015, President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered the Lands ministry to hasten the issuance of title deeds to members of the company to stop the bloodshed.
Acquitting the 18 people accused of murdering four directors Justice Ngugi questioned why investigators spared the senior government officials who were adversely mentioned in the case.
He noted that during the hearing it emerged that apart from a CS, a governor and a county commissioner, others who benefited from the land were a deputy county county commissioner, assistant county commissioner, a ward rep and a chief.
“In the end, the trial for the murders of the deceased persons turned out to be no more than a window-dressing exercise. After due analysis, I find that the evidence tendered by the prosecution is not sufficient to prove the four counts of murder against the accused persons beyond reasonable doubt. Consequently, I find that are not guilty of the four counts of murder,” ruled Justice Ngugi.
The judge cited instances that suggested an attempt to bungle the investigations from the onset including the intelligence team being called in late when the trails of the killers had gone cold.
A team from DCI headquarters started recording statements at least a year after the last murder had been committed.
“It was probably too optimistic to expect them to unearth quality evidence capable to leading to convictions,” the judge said.
In September 2015, 18 suspects were charged with the killing of four directors: Peter Kimani Kuria, Paul Muhuhi Bernard on Josphat Kibe Nyoike and Zakary Chege Kiratu.
Those charged were Joseph Thiong’o Waweru, Henry Ngugi Karuga alias mwene cio, Julius Kanyiri Wambui alias Kamurang’a, John Njorge Gacho alias Njilano, Harrison Kibande Marubu, Joseph Muchui Muiruri and Benard Murigi Karanja.
Also charged was Josphat Macharia Marubu alias Kasee, Mary Mugechi Mburu alias wamugechi,Joseph Nyamu Kago alias Kimangu, Patrick Ikuu Mugo, Samuel Ikuu Mugo and Peter Mburu Mungai.
Others were Peter Murigi Ngige, Zackaria Ngaruiya Mutwe, Joh Kmau Kariuki, Simon Ngugi Gitahi and David Muirru Chomba.
Most of them were suspected of being members of Ward 4, a vigilante group thought to have been behind the killings.
However, Justice Ngugi ruled that there was very little evidence to show that the accused were members of the vigilante group.
He noted that even though witnesses testified that members of the Kihiu Mwiri community were frightened of Ward 4 , no actual evidence was adduced to show that the group actually committed the murders.
During the hearing of the case, evidence emerged the people at Kihiu Mwiri regarded the local leadership in the Interior ministry and the police in the area as the real problem.
According to the judgment, a witness told the court that a county commissioner got 40 acres of Kihiu Mwiri land, a governor got 34 acres, a deputy county county commissioner got three quarters of an acre while an assistant county commissioner got quarter of an acre.
The court heard that a chief also got a quarter of an acre which he sold to a third party while the ward rep got one acre. The witness also indicated that there were are other senior people who got bigger plots than typical shareholders.
“Despite reporting the matter to Harambee House, we have never been able to do anything about the illegal parcels,” a witness told the court.
Pharis Mwangi Njoroge , who was the acting chairman of the company at the time of his testimony, explained that there were two rival groups, one led by Peter Kariuki Macharia who had been the chairman for a while before being replaced in elections held in 2011 at Thika stadium.
He was replaced by Peter Kimani Kuria, (now deceased). All the directors of the company were also replaced.
Njoroge told the court that Macharia’s group refused to hand over leadership which brought conflict.
Samuel Irungu Muiruri, who was an administrative clerk at the Kihiu Mwiri’s new office opened by Kuria’s group after the 2011 elections, told the court he was persuaded that the main problem was the Breeze Farm deal.
“The former officials had advertised in the newspapers sale of 240 acres selling it for Sh87.3 million. In the sale agreement, it said they had sold acres 134 for Sh37 million. Due to this, some people were aggrieved and opposed this un-procedural sale of land,” he said.
During Joyce Wanjiku, who is Kibe’s widow, testified that her husband kept telling her that former Murang’a County Commissioner Kula Hache had kept threatening him.
“One day the County Commissioner had asked my husband to go see her, but his friend advised him not go because he feared that she would enforce his disappearance,” Wanjiku testified.
Inspector John Wahome of DCI Headquarters testified that their investigations revealed that Macharia’s group may have been responsible for the killings.
“The group turned the village into a scene of bloodshed,” Wahome told the court.
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