Corrupt officials have been taking bribes of up to Sh1 million to dish out licences to civilians who want to own a firearm, yet the application fee is only Sh2, 000.
So lucrative is the illegal trade that cartels have been fighting efforts to reform the Central Firearms Bureau to enforce stringent licensing procedures.
One such measure that was blocked by the powerful wheeler-dealers was a plan to recall all firearms owned by civilians for inspection in light of reports that parallel licences had been obtained by manipulating the security system and bypassing rules.
About 100 cases of firearms issued under questionable licences are under investigation, according to the authorities.
The syndicate involves unscrupulous officers in the civilian firearms registry working closely with brokers. People with criminal records who want to possess firearms but are not eligible because of the stringent vetting process are major targets because they are likely to pay hefty bribes.
In other cases, genuine applicants, frustrated by long delays, are easy prey. Some unsuspecting applicants, unaware they have been issued with illegal papers, have been exposed to prosecution.
At times, the ring approaches applicants and tells them the government has placed a moratorium on all civilian licences and that the only option is to arrange to have one’s details sneaked in and placed on the waiting list. One is asked to pay a 'facilitation fee'.
Some of the victims pay up to Sh1 million to get a licence.
The rules require each licensed gun owner to have a file, but the system seems to have been manipulated to the extent that several people share the same file while some serial numbers are similar.
Some licensed firearm holders have been shocked to find that they are in illegal possession of guns when they apply for the renewal of their permits. That is the situation businessman Andrew Laird White and his wife, Joy Akoth Mboya, found themselves in.
They had gone to renew their permits in November 2015 only to be told that their firearms were not registered with the bureau.
Their weapons, Taurus pistols serial numbers THU02119 and THY88863, were confiscated when they walked into the Central Firearms Bureau Nairobi headquarters to renew their licences.
They had certificate numbers 9718 and 9716 but they were informed that those belonged to a Mr G. Nyamaku and M. Talaal respectively.
Nyamaku and Talaal had registered the firearms two months before the couple. White and his wife have denied claims that their gun permits are illegal.
Another case involved another businessman, Richard Alden, who had been arrested in connection with the death of a woman in Karen.
It was later discovered that the weapon he had was not registered. This was after police informed him the licence was a counterfeit and later charged him with being in possession of an illegal firearm.
The police are investigating the two cases.
Officials at the firearms bureau say the cartels are so powerful that they have resisted the planned changes to have a better managed system.
“People are still buying fake licences. Even some with questionable characters are getting permits to possess weapons,” said an official who is privy to the developments.
Officials say investigations have found that those determined to own a gun have been paying a facilitation fee of between Sh200,000 and Sh300,000 to the ring, which includes police officers, yet the official application fee for a firearm is only Sh2,000.
“The amount excludes the cost of buying the gun, which depends on the model and dealer. This is big business,” said a source.
According to officials, the criminal ring had been thriving for years until the case of White came to the fore. To establish the truth, two senior officers applied for permits last year in January and a year down the line, they have yet to receive a word from the bureau.
Sources say the syndicate produces its own firearm registers, which are booklets that authorise one to purchase a gun and ammunition from a dealer before the certificate is issued.
The certificate is usually an electronic card the size of an ATM card and the owner is required to carry it when armed. The booklet is required once a year during the renewal of the licence.
Information in the booklet corresponds to details in the electronic certificate. The data is also recorded in individuals’ file at the registry.
Chief Licencing Officer Samuel Kimaru says his office is instituting several measures to ensure the problem is fixed.
“We are still cleaning up the place, with a new registry being introduced. You know nowadays we have a board running the issue,” said Kimaru.
Deputy Inspector General of police Joel Kitili says more changes to the Firearms Act will be proposed to address such issues. “Changes were made to the Act but they are not enough. We are proposing more changes to ensure such problems are addressed,” he said. He applicants to go through the right process.
The National Gun Owners Association of Kenya (Ngao Kenya) has petitioned Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery to take stern action against rogue civilian firearm holders.