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State House meeting that plotted 2006 Standard raid

National

 

 State agents raided The Standard Group in March 2006 and set the day’s newspapers that were rolling off the press on fire.[File, Standard]

After I was ushered into his office by his secretary, I saw that the confidence the police chief had exuded five days earlier was gone.

Unlike February 27 when he was tight-lipped on the raid and the motive, the police chief opened up on this day. To justify himself, the officer went on to explain who ordered the raid and why. 

Looking deflated and tired, the officer reached for some keys and opened a drawer on his desk. He pulled out two pieces of paper. 

“Read these. For your eyes only,” he added as he gave me the docu­ments. That meant I shouldn’t report anything from the documents. I kept my word. 

The two papers had write-ups that looked like “news articles”. I read the two “articles”. The author seemed not to have the slight­est sense of language as it is used in journalism.

Raw copies  

The write-ups ap­peared like raw copies written by readers for consideration in the letters-to-the-editor page. 

I won’t discuss the full content of the write-ups for security and legal implications. All I can say is that they were highly defamatory and scandalous of President Kibaki. The content was a hot security potato.  

One of the write-ups claimed President Kibaki, while he was the Leader of Official Opposition, solicited campaign funds from Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 1997 while the other spoke of snap General Election based on uncon­vincing conclusions regarding the health of the President. The stories looked far-fetched; they looked pure fiction to me. 

“Those are the articles that The Standard wanted to publish,” the deflated officer told me. Judging from my journalistic expertise, I told the police chief those articles were not written by a trained journalist and no serious newspaper would publish that crap. 

The police chief then went on to tell me how he was summoned to a top-level meeting at State House, Nairobi, where he was given the two copies. 

He was told the articles were leaked to the National Intelligence Service (NIS) by a mole in the Standard Group.  

I told the officer that he had been duped and he would be used as a scapegoat when the heat became too much for the Kibaki administration. 

Inner circle

He went on to tell me what transpired on the day he was summoned to State House meeting. He told me the meeting was chaired by President Kibaki and his inner circle attended. Among those who attended the meeting was Internal Security Minister John Michuki and CID Chief Joseph Kamau.  

My contact was given a key role in stopping publication of the alleged stories. Major-General Mohammed Ali, who was in charge of homeland security in Kenya, had strangely been left out of the meeting. 

To justify his actions, the police chief went on to tell me how tension had been high at the State House meeting.  

Those present were deeply angered by the media, accusing it of turning against President Kibaki and trying to undermine his new administration by reporting explosive matters on his family, his health and corruption scandals rocking his top aides.  

Ironically, the media played a key role in President Kibaki’s rise to high office in December 2002.  

A few months after being sworn in as Kenya’s third president, The Sunday Standard threw the first salvo when it published an exclusive sensational headline story claiming President Kibaki had a second wife, Mary Wambui. 

They had also published other stories that did not go down well with people close to the president. 

The sensational Wambui story was the most damaging and it was still fresh in my mind. 

This particular story gave birth to the bad blood between the First Fam­ily and the Kenyan media, more so The Standard. President Kibaki swiftly issued a statement disowning Wambui. 

Kenya’s first president, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, used to be accompanied by First Lady Mama Ngina. When Kenyatta died in August 1978, at a time Kenya’s population was below 10 million, his successor, Daniel arap Moi, kept his family matters private. 

For the 24 years he was President, Moi was never seen in public with his wife. 

Kibaki took over from Moi in December 2002 when the country’s population had risen to slightly above 30 million. A whole generation born and raised within Moi’s 24-year rule knew no First Lady in State House. 

This explained why any news about the First Family attracted so much attention.  

Furthermore, President Kibaki’s alleged second marriage, his emotional denials and a hysterical First Lady Lucy Kibaki who detested anyone trying to insinuate her husband had another wife became juicy news and good fodder for rumour mills. 

The simmering tensions between the First Family and the media exploded into the open and international arena early 2005 after the Sunday Nation sensationally reported how the First Lady Lucy Kibaki had dramatically disrupted a farewell party at the Nairobi home of outgoing World Bank Country Director Makhtar Diop demanding he turns down loud music. 

The two families were neighbours at the posh Muthaiga up-market estate, Diop had rented another of Kibaki’s property and resided there. 

The incident happened on the night of April 29, 2005, and the next issue of the Sunday Nation broke the story.  

The following evening, May 2, 2005, the First Lady stormed Muthaiga Police Station and demanded the arrest of the diplomat and his guests for disturbing her peace.  

Interestingly, the police couldn’t execute her orders since Diop enjoyed diplomatic immunity. This irked Mrs Kibaki even more. 

Stung by the Sunday Nation scoop, The Standard beat NMG with the follow-up drama at the police station. 

At 10.30pm that night, the early editions of The Standard rolled out the press and hit the streets.  

It had a splash exclusive story of how the president’s wife stormed Muthaiga Police Station. The story claimed she was wearing a night-dress. This didn’t go down well with Mrs Kibaki.  

It appeared her aides alerted her about the story of the police station incident being splashed in the fresh copies of The Standard.  

At around 11pm, she stormed the newsroom of Daily Nation at Nation Centre’s third floor in the company of six bodyguards. Being his area of security jurisdiction, Nairobi police chief King’ori Mwangi came along.

A furious Mrs Kibaki gave a five-hour dressing down to editors and journalists.  

I watched in shock as the First Lady took a few quick steps to my work station and slapped a KTN cameraman Clifford Derrick who was filming her tirade.   “I’m here to protest and I’m not leaving until I find the reporter who has been writing all these lies,” Mrs Kibaki said in the televised recording of her.  

In her rage, she seemed to have picked on the wrong newspaper, as it was not Daily Nation, but its rival The Standard, which had published the offending article. She was wav­ing a copy of The Standard.

The president’s wife ended her drama at around 5am the following day and left. The chilling night-long siege at Nation Centre became a juicy local and international story.  

Clifford later sued the First Lady for assault, but Attorney General Amos Wako used his constitutional powers to terminate the civil case. 

Daily Nation, on the other hand, had published an exclusive sto­ry revealing how President Kibaki had collapsed, hitting his head against a staircase at State House.  

The paper claimed this is what led to his highly publicised admission at the Nairobi Hospital dur­ing the early days of his presidency. 

Retract story

The paper was forced to retract the story and offer an apology after State House denied the president had fallen. Kenya’s rumour mills, however, remained active on what could have happened to the president. 

The police chief told me that those who attended the meeting were deeply concerned the media had suddenly grown big horns after President Moi retired.  

There was great concern the media frenzy was aimed at humiliat­ing the new president to expose him to public ridicule.  The two fake articles were tabled at the State House meeting as evidence of how the media had overstepped its mandate. 

The meeting then resolved to raid the Standard Group offices. My police contact was tasked to plan and execute the raid. He divulged names of the high and mighty in the land who had attended the charged meeting. 

“That’s the man who chaired the meeting that ordered the raid,” the officer turned and pointed at Kibaki’s portrait hanging on the wall behind his executive chair. 

“He chaired the meeting and patiently listened to top government officials tell­ing him how the media plotted to bring down the government.” 

The police chief told me that Kibaki spoke less, just listened and nodded his head in approval.  

“I was in the meeting and ordered to stop the publication of the offending articles. Would you have defied the orders if you were in my shoes?” he asked. 

“Drawing from your long career in the police, you should have ad­vised them about the huge political and security consequences,” I countered.  

I added: “Furthermore, there was a better way to handle it by investigating the truth and accuracy of the reports instead of being so brutal.”  

“I wish I had listened to you when you came here to warn me. The heat is so intense I have not slept for two nights,” the police chief confessed.  

He told me those present regarded the Nation Media Group as somehow pro-Kibaki. Although Daily Nation had published a story on President Kibaki collapsing, it had a lot of positive things to say about the new administration. 

Further, it was argued that attacking NMG would be disastrous be­cause of the influence the media giant has. The influential leader of the Ismailia Muslim Community, His Highness The Aga Khan, is the principle owner of NMG. 

The Standard Group was regarded as too hostile and was seen as the voice of former President Moi and his associates, who were then not in cordial terms with the Kibaki administration. Those who at­tended the meeting saw a hand of anti-Kibaki elements in the me­dia frenzy. 

There was deep suspicion that the Moi family and their associates – who owned a major stake in Standard Group – could be us­ing journalists from the Kalenjin community, whom they had handpicked and placed in key positions in the company, to engage in the alleged scandalous reporting to fight the new leadership. 

Top figures in President Kibaki’s government instructed the officer to use any means at his disposal to stop the publication of the two articles. 

Major General Ali was at the time at loggerheads with some of President Kibaki loyalists and CID chief Kamau.  

The meeting agreed that the com­missioner couldn’t be trusted with the top-secret plot.  

There was growing pressure on President Kibaki from his loyalists to sack Maj Gen Ali be­cause they considered him too rigid, hence they were unable to manipulate him to do dirty jobs. 

Fighting for his job, Major General Ali had warmed up to Tom Mshindi, who had decamped from NMG and was Standard Group’s chief executive officer, as he sought to win the media over to his side.

The police chief was communicating with NMG through me. Maj Gen Ali’s association with Mshindi was discussed at the State House meeting and it was feared he would alert the media house if he was brought into the picture or he could stubbornly refuse to cooperate.  

Back in his office, the police chief summoned the Kanga Squad and told them of the big new assignment.  

The elite squad had been formed to crack down a killer squad that targeted new home owners on the outskirts of Nairobi in Ngong, Kiserian and Upper Matasia.  

Unlike their successful crime fight mission, Kanga’s new task was bound to spark off a furious local and international storm.

Loyal officers 

Only loyal officers were handpicked for the Standard raid. A squad of 15 officers was assembled.  

Those who devel­oped cold feet during the planning stages were asked to step down, but with a stern warning they would face serious consequences if they blubbered. 

The squad vigorously rehearsed for the mission, regularly updating the police chief. But Maj Gen Ali was kept in the dark. It was then decided to bring on board two Armenian brothers – Artur Sargasyan and Artur Margaryan – who had secretly come to Kenya as shadowy businessmen earlier in the year.

[In your copy tomorrow, the role of the two foreigners from Eastern Europe claiming to be brothers and who came to be known as Artur brothers and the plan that included bombing I&M building which  hosted The Standard Group then.]

Mr Muiruri is a former Editor (Crime and Security) at the Nation Media Group and former Editorial consultant of The DCI magazine

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