Phone records cannot be erased simply by formatting a device, as claimed in the probe into the murder of Sergeant Kipyegon Kenei.
And the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) had by yesterday not sought the call logs from any of the mobile service providers, nearly three weeks after the officer’s body was discovered.
Prior allegations had it that the police officer had committed suicide before the theory was deconstructed and replaced with an alternative one of a well-orchestrated murder by smart assailants who supposedly left no clues behind.
According to techies, phone exchange information cannot go missing since the Kenyan laws require telcos to store records for at least three years, for use on request by any authorised agency.
At the very least, homicide detectives should have found the people Kenei was constantly on the phone with before and after the officer was reported missing, a key plank into the entire murder investigation.
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Kenei's body was discovered in his bedsitter at Imara Daima, a week after he ushered former Sports Cabinet Secretary Rashid Echesa into the DP’s boardroom together with two foreigners for what authorities said was dubious business.
The new findings bring to the fore serious questions about the intent of detectives in finding the killers and their motive, which has preliminarily been indicated as silencing him over the fake Sh40 billion guns scandal.
George Kinoti, the DCI boss, last week claimed that the probe had been hampered by a supposed cover-up by the killers, which involved flushing the officer’s handset to conceal their tracks.
It now turns out that the investigators might have overlooked the most basic steps along the way – seeking the mobile service providers' cooperation to retrieve Kenei's last communication.
But interviews with mobile networks engineers who have worked for main players, including Huawei, have hugely discounted Mr Kinoti’s version of events in relation to access to information such as call and message logs.
“It is impossible to erase any phone records as these are constantly backed-up in in-house and cloud servers, which are hosted in various parts of the world,” said an engineer.
Restoring a device to factory setting only erases localised information on the various applications which can be accessed from the user.
Even then, different software has been developed to retrieve such media, including photos and communication exchanges, as was the case in a prior investigation by the Capital Markets Authority on insider trading involving a listed company.
Subscribers’ information including location, airtime balances, call and SMS logs are stored in a central system technically known as Mobile Switching Centre (MSC), they explained.
That is how a user is able to make a call or send a message as the MSC will assign the base station to be used and determine whether the account has sufficient airtime to be spent, seamlessly.
“If that were the case that call logs cannot be retrieved when a device is formatted, then users could as well lose their airtime after flushing their phones,” added the techies.
In essence, mobile phones are just front-end platforms that users employ to interact with the communication system of service providers.
Their assertions were backed by responses from the different service providers who told The Standard that subscribers’ details from as far back as 2005 are secured and readily accessible upon justifiable request.
But owing to the sensitivity of the matter and that the entities are often at the mercy of the State in their operations, the sources, even though permitted to speak to the media, requested anonymity.
“We have all the information about all our customers. It is all intact and I can assure you that no one has asked us for it,” said one of the senior managers.
On the claims that the information could have been deleted, they said DCI should have apprehended the supposed employee immediately.
Another said: “There is a requirement in law that such information is stored safely for up to three years, and failure on our part to provide it is a punishable offence.”
They added that the industry regulator, Communications Authority of Kenya, should by now have taken major punitive steps against any provider that does not store such information.
As part of the licensing regulations, providers are required to “establish and maintain information records in regard to its operations, in a format prescribed by the CA from time to time, for a minimum period of three years”.
This would form the basis of questioning Kinoti’s failure to question the people Kenei was speaking with on the phone, even after the DCI boss acknowledged the murder was linked to events of February 13 relating to the fake arms tender.
Kenei has been confirmed to have been at the centre of the scandal after CCTV footage captured him taking instructions from unknown persons as he led Mr Echesa and his visitors to the VIP waiting room in the DP’s office.
“The motive of the cold-blooded murder is very clear. It was to safeguard, protect and insulate or save the source from the adverse involvement and attendant consequences of using the military procurement process in the most deceitful and fraudulent manner,” Kinoti said last week.
Establishing the motive for the killing is usually a key starting point to unravel crimes such as murder, and it is unclear how it took detectives less than two weeks to draw the conclusion.
On Sunday, senior officials at the Homicide Department of the DCI had indicated that nine individuals had been identified for questioning over the murder, but they could not reveal whether they were linked to the slain officer’s call records.
Likely candidates for the questioning are Echesa’s co-accused in the fake arms deal who posed to the would-be supplier’s representatives as senior generals in the military.
The three men interacted with Kenei during the entire one hour and 23 minutes that they were at the Harambee House Annex offices, where he (Kenei) was a security officer.
Dr Ruto has since decried the slow pace of the investigation, even claiming that Kenei may have been eliminated to frame him, undermine his office and erect barriers to his pursuit of high office in 2022.
CA confirmed receipt of our email enquiry on telcos data but had not responded by close of business yesterday.