ExclusiveBy Cyrus Ombati
A composed Gitangu when he visited our newsroomYesterday was the last day for Patrick Thuo Gitangu to withdraw a criminal complaint against the bosses of a multinational company in Kenya — or he would be killed.
The chilling death threat, delivered to his wife’s sickbed in hospital and signed simply as "concerned", reads:
"You are hereby given 48 hours (by close of day, Saturday the 19th) to withdraw the criminal complaint that you have lodged against Coca Cola managers at the Central Police Station. Failure to do so will result in instant justice. Please note that you may not be lucky this time, like the previous occasion. In any case you know very well that no criminal case against these men can see the light of the day. I thought you learnt this from the earlier case."
Gitangu, 36, believes the threat because of the experiences he has undergone at the hands of his tormentors: They employ all the tactics of the Sicilian mafia, appear to have a licence to kill, the power to blackmail and the backing of senior government officials.
In an extraordinary case that threatens to shine a light on the dark world of targeted assassinations and a flourishing criminal underworld in Kenya, government officials are being accused of backing a criminal ring alleged to be freely perpetrating murder and blackmail.
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Early on, in February this year, Gitangu says men in two cars blocked him from the front and the rear as he was driving home along Nyerere Road in Nairobi, shot him in the cheek and left him for dead.
Although he reported the matter to the police and one of the suspects was arrested, the Director of Public Prosecutions discontinued the case even before hearing could begin.
He has gone underground following what he claims to be a venomous campaign of extortion and abduction perpetrated against him by top executives of Coca-Cola East Africa, senior government officials and ranking policemen.
Gitangu points at the bullet scar. Pics by Jacob Otienotangu, previously a high-flying executive with the Coca-Cola in Nairobi, says his troubles began in April last year when he decided to resign as the company’s Regional Research Manager to run his own firm, Trends & Analysis.
In the six years that he served at Coca-Cola, his private research firm thrived, with Coca-Cola as their main clients.
To sustain the clandestine ties with the company, he says in a five-page statement he has submitted to the authorities, he was obliged to offer his boss William Egbe "a cut of 20 per cent out of every project’s billing."
Thuo claims the business deal he had entered with the Cameroon-born Coca-Cola East Africa Chairman and Managing Director went sour after he resigned from the company and refused to offer Egbe share-holding in his Trends & Analysis.
Egbe, Thuo alleges, demanded to be co-opted into the research firm, an offer that was rebuffed.
What followed was a drawn-out campaign of intimidation against Gitangu, in which he would be baited and assaulted, sustain a bullet wound and lose most of his assets — yet all his attempts to extract refuge from the formal justice system and the government of Kenya would hit a brick wall.
Gitangu claims to have been summoned by Mr Egbe, on May 6, 2004, where the latter told him that he had all along been unaware of the activities of his company, which he proclaimed illegal and withdrew his resignation letter and warned him of dire consequences. Present during the meeting was the Coca-Cola security manager, Mr Ephraim Maragwa.
Gitangu claims he was directed to report to the office of a Mr Zahil Sheikh of KPMG Auditors at Lonrho House on the May 8, where he claims to have been humiliated and physically assaulted by Egbe, Maragwa, Zahil and a Mr Kenneth Onyango.
Egbe insisted that he had to surrender his assets to Coca Cola, which he claimed were fraudulently acquired.
He was then ordered to go with Maragwa to his residence, where a thorough search was conducted and his property confiscated.
His three title deeds, three passports belonging to family members, log book, three cheque books, 10 box files with information on his company, and 60 computer diskettes were confiscated.
Gitangu says he was ordered to report to the Standard Bank, Muthaiga branch, on May 10 where he bought a banker’s cheque for Sh14 million in favour of Coca-Cola.
On May 14, Gitangu says he was summoned back to the KPMG offices where he was forced to sign five blank cheque leafs and blank transfers of his property at the Hughes Building.
Gitangu was, however, hard-pressed to explain why he obliged Coca-Cola’s every request, stating only that he was still in the employ of the company and had to acquiesce to the orders of his superiors.
He insists, however, that shortly after he contacted his lawyer, Mr Paul Mwangi, who moved to court and stopped the company from transferring his property.
The worst, though was yet to come. Gitangu went to the Criminal Investigations Department director, Mr Joseph Kamau, and outlined his predicament.
Kamau ordered the arrest of Egbe, Maragwa, Zahil, and Onyango. The quartet were arrested on January 3 2005 and released on a Sh 1 million bond.
Prior to the day they were taken to court, in Gitangu’s telling, Coca-Cola’s legal counsel, a Mr William Asiko allegedly met him at the CID headquarters and urged him to withdraw the case.
He declined, and claims the decision to press on with the case coincided with the emergence of a spate of threatening text messages on his mobile phone. (He has furnished police with the offending number.)
He reported the matter to the police and met Central Police boss Julius Ndegwa over the matter on February 2.
That very day, matters took a turn for the worse: "While driving back home at about 10.30 pm along Nyerere Road, and just before St Andrews Church (in the company of his brother-in-law), "a white car overtook me and immediately blocked me from the front.
On looking behind, I saw another car whose headlights were on blocking me from behind. Four men jumped out of the first car. Given that my headlights were still on, I saw and recognised Mr Maragwa … The men ordered us to roll down our windows … One of the two men shouted at me, asking why I had refused to withdraw my case against Coca-Cola (and) as I was pleading with him, he pushed his pistol into my mouth and asked me to say my last prayers. Before I could say anything, one man from the co-driver’s side shouted Maliza yeye twende (Finish him off so we can go)…"
The next he knew, he was lying in a pool of blood. Although he was taken to hospital in the company of the Central police boss Julius Ndegwa with a bullet having seared through his face, his ordeal was hardly at an end.
Maragwa was arrested and immediately released.
When The Sunday Standard inquired from Ndegwa why the man was released without charge, he would only say that he acted on orders.
And when we contacted the CID Director on why his department appeared impotent in the face of the gang, he admitted that Maragwa, a former provincial police boss, had been arrested and was expected to have been charged but he had been "released pending investigations." He would not elaborate.
The turn of events appears to have emboldened the members of the mob out to get Gitangu.
And to make matters worse, the office of the Attorney General and Director of Public Prosecutions then withdrew the criminal charge that the CID had initiated against the senior Coca-Cola managers.
According to Gitangu, the development followed pressure brought to bear on the CID by a senior government official after being pressurised by Coca-Cola, although he offered no proof to back up his claims.
A senior official at the directorate of public prosecutions, who refused to speak on the record, however dismissed the entire story as fabricated and claimed it was concocted as an extortion scheme against Coca Cola.
He could not, however, explain why no action had been taken regarding what he termed as "the so-called attempted murder" charge, saying only that the AG was yet to see the file.
Official excuses, though are cold comfort for Gitangu, a Kenyan citizen, terrified and on the run, who has lost all faith in the ability of the government to protect his life.
"The sad thing is that even to get police protection is out of the question because police officers are scared of associating with me," he told The Sunday Standard yesterday.
"If police cannot protect me because they fear being sacked, who can?"