Banker's Hell: Convict reveals how they stole millions from bank

Former banker Joseph Mulinge during an interview in Nairobi. [Jonah Onyango/Standard]
A banker's road to hell is paved with grand plans of image-boosting projects and exotic holidays funded by the employer’s money lying all around the workplace.

The fantasy of quick riches clandestinely drawn from numerous vaults using dummy accounts is irresistible and ultimately triggers a chain reaction whose end is inevitable. This fantasy marked the beginning of Joseph Mulinge Muli's descent from his relatively well paying job as a credit officer into a bottomless abyss.

More than two years later, Muli is helpless like a fly caught in a web span by a predatory spider. Muli's heavens fell on June 28, 2013 although the clouds have been gathering around his bank in Mwea where he had been since 2010.

At 36, Muli, a holder of a Bachelor of Science degree from Egerton University, had nothing little to complain about life. He had secured a respectable job as a banker, and was earning better than what he did as a salesman with an agro-chemical company.

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His job entailed farm visits to evaluate land and crops against loans sought and advise the bank whether the project was viable before money was released.

But one season things started going wrong; Muli claims he started receiving strange instructions from the credit manager.

Peasant farmers, who looked like they had been plucked off from their paddy fields in Wanguru would congregate in the credit manager's office.

After long minutes of hushed conversations punctuated with hearty laughter that would at times spill out of the office, the boss would summon Muli and issue verbal instructions.

"One day my boss introduced me to someone who did not even have a bank account. As I stood there an account was opened and I was ordered to key in loan application details. Within minutes, the manager approved a Sh200,000 loan," says Muli.

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This money, Muli explains was collected from a cashier by the credit manager who led the applicant out of the bank. This loan was never repaid.

On yet another day, a man introduced as branch manager of a rival bank also came to Muli's department. He too got a Sh200,000 loan - the maximum the branch was permitted to give. The stranger did not have an account and neither did he offer security or repay the loan.

At one time, the bank's headquarters got wind of the shady deals Muli and his colleagues were transacting and sent a team that scrutinised the accounts and recorded statements.

"Some people from Security Department sent from the headquarters came. I wrote statements about fictitious clients and ghost accounts which had been granted loans. There was also the case of forged documents and fake title deeds," Muli adds.

The day before the police pounced on him as he was strolling in the streets of Wanguru, Muli had tendered his resignation. He was waiting to be cleared by his boss but as it turned out, he was too late.

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A few months earlier, his boss had vanished from his work place, ostensibly to contest a civic seat in Kiambu County. Another credit officer in the same branch was transferred to Garissa but he never reported. He too ditched his employer and disappeared from Wang'uru.

Muli regrets that he did not read the signs and resigned earlier but for a long time he had held onto false hopes that the crimes committed in his department would go undetected. Naively, he thought he could clean the accounts and 'cleanse' his name.

Ultimately, on June 27, 2013, Muli was arrested and the following day was charged with stealing a total of Sh2.3 million from his employer.

According to the charge sheet, Muli had on diverse dates - between September 21 2011 and April 26 2013 stolen Sh2, 375,011.

After denying the charges the court gave Muli a bond of Sh1 million or a cash bail of Sh500,000.

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"I could not raise the bond. The family land in Kisiiki village in Mavoloni, Machakos had no title. I was locked up for one year until a cousin, Julius Munyao agreed to bail me out."

As the hearing of the case progressed, Muli realised that the odds were against him. The bank had irrefutable evidence about his role in the theft.

"I had signed about 50 loan applications. I had also provided fake information and facilitated the opening and maintaining of the fictitious accounts. There was proof I had not visited the farms. My password had been used to open fake accounts," Muli agrees.

Confronted with the mounting evidence of his crimes of omission and commission, Muli bolted on the day of judgement, in July 2015.

And for six months, he lived in hibernation in a farm in Njoro where he worked as a farm hand whose pay was Sh500 per week and daily food rations.

"When I arrived in Njoro, I was desperate and when a couple agreed to offer me a job, I did not state how much I wanted. They exploited my desperation. I did not want to annoy them and so I slaved without pay."

Muli was however unhappy in Njoro and stole his boss's gas cylinder which he sold for Sh2,500 and used the money for fare to Nairobi, where he rented a room at Mukuru Kwa Njenga in Nairobi.

One day, an old friend spotted Muli and tipped his cousin Munyao who was desperately trying to save his land. Muli was arrested on February 14, 2016 and taken to Wanguru to face his judgement.

He was sentenced to four years but was later released after serving only two and after a favourable probation report.

The father of three is now looking for a job even as he serves the remainder of his sentence doing community service.

"If only I could get someone to give me a second chance; I will serve honestly and with dedication. I have learnt a bitter lesson. I have also learnt new skills, like making detergents which I am ready to impart to jobless youth," he adds.

ConvictBanker's hellBank robberyJoseph MulingeCrime