By Standard Team, Mohammed Ali and Dennis Onsarigo
In a special series timed to coincide with the latest installment of the KTN investigation into drug trafficking, we unveil some of the untold secrets of the so-called Armenian mercenaries.
Government officials will not discuss whether international criminals were hired by mistake by individuals meddling in security contracts or whether the enforcers were hired on purpose to help drug smugglers.
Nobody will speak openly about the Artur saga, in which foreign mercenaries allegedly hired to set up a secret police unit became a public embarrassment to the Government after a bungled raid on the Standard Group.
The men arrived in the country just as plans were being made to test 1.1 metric tonnes of cocaine seized in Malindi and Nairobi two years earlier. When they drew too much anger with their airport gun drama, they were kicked out of the country.
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Speaking to United States embassy officials in March 2006, Mr Kalonzo Musyoka allegedly advanced the drug enforcer theory, but did not provide evidence to support it.
Other opposition leaders made similar accusations in the immediate aftermath of the raid.
A parliamentary team investigating the matter has urged investigations into the roles played by political activist Mary Wambui and two former Government officers said to be her allies: Mr Stanley Murage, then a Special Advisor to the president and Mr Joseph Kamau, then the Criminal Investigations Department chief.
It has not been confirmed whether they were involved in hiring the men in a public or private capacity and what they knew about them before allegedly engaging them. Also named was the Internal Security minister at the time, Mr John Michuki.
Wambui was linked to the Arturs through her daughter’s relationship with Mr Margaryan; her relationship with Naomi Cidi, who gave the Artur’s airport access; a white Lexus, KAQ 010W, used by the men in the Standard raid; an aide, Julius Maina, who facilitated their dealings with various offices; and two guns allegedly stolen from bodyguards assigned to her. She has not been questioned about her ties to the mystery men.
Both Kamau and Murage, said to be allies of Wambui, were shunted out of their positions after the saga exploded into the public domain. No criminal charges have been preferred against those involved with the mysterious foreigners.
The arrival of the ‘Artur brothers’ in 2006 was not the first or only bizarre incident connected to the 2004 cocaine seizure. Indeed, KTN’s investigative team has documented examples of strange legal, political, and criminal activity that seems intended to bury the truth about the consignment.
The saga and the cover-up that followed brought into sharp focus the events of the previous two years following what was, and remains, Kenya’s largest ever cocaine seizure.
As reported in the first three parts of ‘Paruwanja la Mihadarati’ and ‘The Untouchables’, in KTN’s Jicho Pevu and Inside Story investigative series, there are many signs some police and Government officials tried to obstruct justice in the case.
Major drug deal
Despite signs of a major drug deal in the works in 2004, the authorities did their best to turn a blind eye. When a Customs official raised suspicion over two containers these men had imported in January 2004, his request for a search using drug-sniffing dogs was denied.
The containers were filled with some of the high-grade cocaine being brought ashore in Malindi and shipped back to Europe. It was only because police there seized two of them and raised the alarm about “several tonnes” of cocaine in Kenya, that Kenyans were forced to act.
Dutch police sent a confidential note to Kenya on December 8, 2004. Their Kenyan counterparts waited six days before they made their move. When they finally raided various premises in Malindi and Nairobi, they only found 1,141kg of cocaine, not the “several tonnes” mentioned by the Dutch.
A group of four Dutchmen and one Kenyan that had been at the Malindi premises where more than 800kg was found had left the country just two days earlier, almost certainly after being tipped off.
Two days after Kenya police were told about the traffickers, the key suspects found out they were wanted. A house-help and a cleaner who had been hired by the gang were paid their salaries and told not to report to work.
The criminals shut down their operation, managed to hide several tonnes of cocaine and fled the country by air, helpfully leaving one tonne for the police to seize.
The fugitives would have disappeared into thin air if police in the Netherlands had not arrested them in Amsterdam that month.
Those arrested included four Dutchmen — Robertus Stehman, Hendrik Hermanj, Johan Neelen, Arien Gorter and Marinus Hendrik van Wezel — and one Kenyan, George Kiragu, the son of former Kirinyaga South Member of Parliament Stephen Kiragu.
Mobile phones retrieved from them included more than 200 phone numbers, including those of a Kenyan Cabinet minister, an assistant minister, a sitting MP and several other prominent personalities.
After the discovery of more than a tonne of cocaine in Malindi and Nairobi, the big mystery was not just who had abandoned them, but also what they had done with several other tonnes of cocaine that had gone missing.
One senior police officer spent the next year tracking down 39 shipping containers that had been stolen by officials at the port. In September 2005, Hassan Abdillahi — then the criminal investigations boss at the port — announced the arrest of one police officer and four port security officers who sneaked the containers out of the port.
He also told a close family friend the shipping containers belonged to the brothers of a certain MP. Not long after, Abdillahi was shot dead. His killing has not been solved. Police say his killers were themselves shot dead not long after in yet another unsolved case.
Five weeks after the cocaine was found, a Senior Superintendent Of Police with the General Service Unit was shot dead at his rural home by a group of more than 20 police officers.
Police claimed Erastus Chemorei was wanted for robbery with violence and had either attempted to flee or to grab a weapon from one of the officers at his home.
At the time of his killing, Chemorei was the adjutant or administrative secretary at the GSU training school in Embakasi. Details uncovered by the KTN investigative team reinforce the suspicion Chemorei’s death was linked to the drugs found in Malindi and Nairobi.
Other killings that have been linked to drug investigations include those of Administration Police officers Badi Mwajirani and Juma Mwagaatu, and later Ali Abudi, a National Security Intelligence Services officer.
Mwajirani and Mwagaatu were shot dead in broad daylight in the eye of a CCTV camera. Their killers have never been brought to justice. Abudi’s killing was followed by tragedy for Mr Baktash Akasha, son of murdered drug lord Ibrahim Akasha, who provided a vehicle to the Artur brothers and met with them during their time in Kenya.
Three days after Abudi’s killing, Baktash’s Ukrainian-born wife Saud, aka Svetlana, was found murdered in a disused bathroom. Her killers had tried to make the death look like a suicide. Neither killing has been solved.
It is not known if the two drug-land murders were connected. At about the same time, however, Fatma Akasha, one of Ibrahim Akasha’s widows (Baktash’s mother), claimed to be receiving death threats from someone described as “a member of the extended family”.
During their time in Kenya, the Artur brothers were also in touch with Goldenberg architect Kamlesh Pattni and real estate investor Rajendra ‘Raju’ Sanghani, both of whom are ex-convicts. Despite their associations, the foreigners apparently had access to secure installations such as the JKIA airport and the GSU armoury.
In a recent interview conducted via online video-call service Skype, Mr Artur Margaryan admitted that he visited the armoury where 1,141 kilos of cocaine was stored for over one year before it was destroyed.
He claims he made the visit to survey security arrangements as part of a plan to build a more secure storage unit for seized narcotics.
This, he adds, was part of the plan to create and train a unit inside the CID that would tackle drug trafficking. His admission corroborates information provided to the KTN investigative team by a confidential source in the GSU.
The facts suggest politically connected individuals doing business with the Government may have corrupted, co-opted or intimidated various State agents into helping them break the law. When caught, they invoke or receive protection from people in State offices.
The fact that none has been arrested or charged over anything has raised fears that some top State officials are hostage to political blackmail or, worse, complicit in some of their criminal activities.
Mohammed Ali is a Senior Investigative Editor with KTN, the broadcasting arm of The Standard Group.
Dennis Onsarigo is a Senior Investigative Reporter with KTN.