George Kinoti vs IEBC: Who is telling the truth about Venezuelans?

DCI boss George Kinoti and IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati. Kinori is accusing Chebukati of misleading the country on the identity of the three Venezuelans. [File, Standard]

Two officials of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) have been linked to the three Venezuelans who are at the centre of investigation over possible plan to interfere with the August 9 General Election.

The Standard has learnt that the two IEBC officials – one of them a commissioner – had facilitated the entry into the country of the three men using their links with Abdulahi Abdi Mohamed, the CEO of Seamless Limited.

Seamless Limited claims to be the local partner of Smartmatic International Holdings BV, the company IEBC has awarded the contract to deploy technology to be used in the elections.

The three foreigners entered the country on various dates in the last two weeks, carrying with them sensitive election materials that has triggered a political storm with just about two weeks to polling day.

The commissioner is personally known to Mohamed, but their relationship, which goes back to their childhood days, grew stronger after they met an MP from northern Kenya soon after the 2017 General Election.

It was a relationship based on the common interest of doing business with IEBC through its lucrative election tenders in which the MP had more than a cursory interest.

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati is walking a tightrope after the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) accused him of misleading the country on the identity of the three men and the nature of their visit to Kenya.

In his statement issued yesterday, DCI boss George Kinoti fell short of referring to the three men as international criminals, revealing that the contract signed between IEBC and the Dutch firm shows that none of them was an employee of either IEBC or Smartmatic.

Kinoti further indicated that Jose Gregorio Camargo Castellanos, the last foreigner to arrive and whose arrest has triggered the political storm, had confessed during investigations that he was handed the 17 rolls of election stickers by his company (Smartmatic) in Panama and was to deliver to Mohamed upon arrival in Kenya.

Addressing a rally at Kapkatet stadium in Kericho County, yesterday, Deputy President William Ruto asked Kinoti to keep off election matters.

“We want to tell Kinoti to stop his foolishness. Kindly save your time. Stop writing us long letters. Leave matters of elections to IEBC. Give Chairman Wafula Chebukati his space,” he said.

Ruto said the saga that involved the arrest of the Venezuelan nationals at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), Nairobi, was being choreographed by government operatives and Azimio la Umoja One Kenya to distract Kenyans from the high cost of living and ailing economy.

He called on President Uhuru Kenyatta to separate his roles as the head of state and being the patron of Azimio, whose presidential candidate is ODM leader Raila Odinga.

“Please do not confuse your duties as president and as chairperson of Azimio. You must serve all Kenyans equally. Support your Azimio project but remember you have a duty to 50 million Kenyans to guarantee their security,” he said.

Yesterday, Mohamed rubbished the arrest of the three as political witch-hunt, claiming that the three are in the country to support activities surrounding election preparedness.

“The three are in the country on a genuine mission to support activities surrounding elections preparedness,” he said on the phone but was cagey about the “support activities.”

“The Venezuelans are part of a team charged with the responsibility of training about ‘support solutions’ on behalf of Smartmatic International Holding,” he added.

Our source describes Mohamed as a young and shy tenderpreneur who has made money through his dalliance with the commissioner and the MP.

But he maintains that he is a genuine, young businessman struggling to eke out a living, although he could not explain how he had managed to win lucrative government tenders.

Information gleaned from its website indicate that Seamless Limited was formed as a partnership in 2010 and was originally a supplier of technology goods and services to small and medium-sized companies.

The source revealed that the fortunes of the company changed soon after Jubilee seized power in 2013. Using his long established connection with the politician from Northern Kenya, Mohamed was able to secure tenders from the national government and other State agencies.

Apart from IEBC, other State agencies that are doing business with the company are National Museums of Kenya, KenGen, Kenya Airports Authority, National Housing Company and the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF).

Our sources further revealed that before their arrival, Mohamed had been in constant communication with the three foreigners through proxies, who include the MP.

But he refuted claims that the foreigners had travelled on expired passports.

“The DCI are not telling the truth. The expiry had been extended and this is indicated on the second pages of their passports. This is pure political witch-hunt,” Mohamed told The Standard on the phone yesterday.

However, he could not explain the coincidence that the three had expired passports.

While he confirmed he knows an IEBC commissioner he maintained that he has no blood relations with him. “We don’t come from the same clan. Our interactions with him are purely work related, especially on the Kiems project,” said Mohamed.

Mohamed first recorded a statement at JKIA Police Station on Thursday before moving to the Anti-Terrorist Police Unit a day later. 

“Mohamed Abdullahi is not a mysterious person as they (DCI) are putting it. We have contractual obligation with Smartmatic International but not IEBC,” said Mohamed.

He revealed that he has contacted Smartmatic, which promised to issue an official statement over the unfolding saga.

Investigations reveal that the contract between Smartmatic and IEBC on the supply of 10,000 Kenya Integrated Elections Management System (Kiems) kits does not include a clause on the delivery of materials from outside the country, a loophole deliberately known to the two officials, which they must have exploited to allow the three foreigners enter the country with their consignment that is the basis of investigations.

“The loophole was deliberate and consciously left for mischief,” Kinoti said in the statement released yesterday.

The DCI's statement was in response to Chebukati who on Friday accused police of harassing IEBC personnel and confiscation of items to be used by the commission in the August 9 General Election.

“The commission demands cessation of harassment of personnel of legitimately contracted service providers and calls for the immediate release of all confiscated items,” Chebukati said after a Venezuelan was arrested after being found in possession of 17 rolls of election stickers.

The police had arrested the foreigner, suspecting him of impropriety upon landing at JKIA with IEBC material declared as “personal luggage.”

The stickers are meant to label all the Kiems kits and ensure a smooth distribution of the gadgets to all the 46,232 polling stations the commission has gazetted for use in the General Election.