The offer was made with the passion and conviction of an accomplished street preacher.
Pointing at a passing vehicle cruising on the road below the joint on Tom Mboya Street, he lowered his voice and intoned, ”I can get you that number plate. Printed in Kamiti, you know. The real stuff not the useless mabati from Kirinyaga Road.”
“What!” I gasped, leaning closer to study his unflinching eyes, as the conspirator’s friend laughed loudly.
“If you give the money now, my friend Tinga Mara here will make sure you have the number plates tomorrow at 9am,” he offered.
The announcement was boisterous and a number of clients accusatorily stared at our table. River Road, the theatre of scams by budding and established criminals, was just a stone's throw away.
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Now that the two agents of Nairobi’s underworld had my undivided attention, they raised their sales pitch, each complementing and embellishing the other’s outrageous accomplishments.
Without any provocation, Mara whipped out his phone, the old analogue type which criminals say is difficult to trace unlike the trendier smartphones. He exchanged pleasantries with the person on the other end of the line.
We overheard him mention Sh15,000 and an affirmation that the deal could be sealed the following morning if he was given all the requirements.
As soon as he terminated the call, Mara presented his proposal. He needed Sh22,000. His contact in Kamiti would require Sh15,000 to make the number plates.
“His work is clean. You know he is in charge of the prisoners who print number plates at Kamiti. The plates are legitimate and he will deliver them to the courier himself. You will never be stopped by a traffic police,” Mara assured.
Mara then gave his wish list. He too, he explained, was in business. He would require Sh6,000, which would cater for logistics of delivering the plates from the gates of Kamiti Prison to the city centre from where he would then deliver them to the client.
Steve, the fixer who had introduced us to Mara, listened keenly without any opposition or offer of support.
I did not have the money at that time and we agreed that once the principals I was representing were ready, I would contact Mara. He was unconcerned about what we intended to do with the number plates.
A few days later we reconvened, this time in a hotel near General Post Office. The meeting was short. After receiving a down payment of Sh10,000, Mara called his contact in Kamiti then sent the money via mobile money transfer.
A few seconds later, the prison officer at Kamiti called back to confirm he had received the money. He also wanted to know the details to include in the plate he was soon going to make.
As a sign of good faith, Mara forwarded to me the message indicating that he had sent the money as proof that he was operating transparently.
After this, the meeting ended at around 6pm and the waiting started.
The call came the following morning at around 9pm. ”Are you in town?” Mara wanted to know.
Upon learning that I was already at work, Mara reassured that his man had already done his part.
“He is a true gentleman. He drove out of Kamiti in a prison car and delivered it to a boda boda operator outside just moments ago.”
He added: ”There is a small hitch though. The usual rider who delivers plates from Kamiti to me is unavailable. I am working with a new one who is demanding to be paid before he departs.”
The transport fee, Sh1,000, was sent to Mara for onward transmission to the courier.
An hour later, Mara called to say the rider was in town and he was on his way to deliver the number plates at a designated place.
The exercise of handing over the contraband was a reenactment of an espionage thriller. First Mara wanted to know my preferred pickup point which he rejected and suggested his own.
Mara entered the hotel, chose a corner table where he “hid” his contraband, in a big envelope and then moved out. He then announced his arrival from the safety of two blocks.
As he explained later, he wanted to spy on me as I went to the meeting place to see whether I was accompanied by suspicious characters.
If any suspicious character was tagging along, he was to abort the mission, switch of his two mobile phones and then scram to safety.
When we finally settled in the hotel, he smiled mischievously when asked why he was not having the plates. Without explanation, he rose went to a corner and retrieved his parcel, wrapped in old newspapers on one end while the other was in an envelope.
The original plot was quite simple. We wanted to gift ourselves one of our employer’s double cab pick-up truck. We would make its registration plates and then use criminal networks to secure its logbook.
Now looking at the registration plates, there was a slight problem. You see a guy from transport department had made a mistake and pronounced an L as an N over the phone.
Consequently, the number we supplied to Kamiti was not the actual registration number. When we ultimately conducted a search in NTSA systems, we discovered that the number plate belonged to a silver coloured Toyota Vitz which was manufactured in 2010.
Armed with registration numbers and ownership details of the car, we embarked on the second phase of the project, infiltrating NTSA and securing a logbook so that we could legitimately own the car.
“You require Sh12,000 now to get a genuine logbook. I have contacts from NTSA who will steal a logbook.
"We will then approach another operator based at Kimathi Street who will alter the details of the logbook to match what you want.”
Now that he had won our confidence after supplying the plates, Mara easily secured the second contract.
“It will take about two hours to get a logbook. Just bring the money and wait. Once I get the logbook, I will photograph it, then conduct a search to establish who the real owner is,” Mara counselled.
Within the projected time frame, Mara and his networks had snatched a logbook, which was lying on the counters at KRA offices waiting for its lady owner to collect it.
The forger, however, proved slippery. At first the document was to be doctored within two hours upon payment but this was not to be because he explained, through intermediaries, that he had a very big workload.
The following morning, he cited a power surge in Ngara, where he works from. We were to wait, he said, as Mara assured that in his business, clients were highly valued and no operator could afford to antagonise them.
Despite the assurance, this marked the start of a rat and mouse game as the Ngara forger had an endless string of excuses for not beating the deadline. One week after pocketing the money, he finally called Mara.
“Our man says that he needs more money. He says that the job has become complicated and there is no way he is going to release the logbook before he is paid Sh4,000,” Mara explained over the phone.
The arrangement was tricky. Under no circumstances would the forger meet me. He wanted his money but I could not release any more before I had proof that the logbook had been doctored to my satisfaction.
Mara was on edge because the forger was becoming impatient. The stalemate lasted another four days.
Ultimately, Mara had a compromise. He would look for money, pay off the forger and then collect his dues when he handed over the logbook. In the meantime, he sent pictures of the doctored logbook.
In the new logbook, the car which had been manufactured in 2007 and registered on January 20, 2015, and given registration number, KCB 5XXW after its duty was fully paid, had now been reborn.
According to the logbook the Ngara operator had doctored, the Vitz was now black in colour and was allegedly registered as KCN 9XXM on November 6, 2017.
The tare weight too had been altered and was now reading 1020.0 as opposed to 1930.0 assigned to the original Vitz.
The new registration number in the logbook was meant to match with the plates which had been made in Kamiti.
To complete the heist, Mara said we would need a further Sh150,000. This money would be paid to his contact in NTSA so that the new changes in the logbook could be entered into the database.
This would have effectively meant that had we given the correct registration number, the Standard Group pick-up truck was now registered in any name we chose.
Any official searches would confirm this and although the legitimate logbook was safely stashed in a vault in our Mombasa Road offices, it would be just a useless piece of paper.
But this heist was not completed.