Venezuelans row: IEBC defends deal with Smartmatic, Seamless firms

DCI boss George Kinoti and IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati. Kinori is accusing Chebukati of misleading the country on the identity of the three Venezuelans.[File, Standard]

The electoral commission defended its dealing with Smartmatic International Holdings, saying it is procedural and that it has a contractual agreement with the company.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) also defended the involvement of Seamless Limited in the deal.

"One of the conditions in the tender document was that the bidder should provide a detailed support and maintenance plan and attach documentary proof of ICT technical support staff with a registered office in Kenya. Smartmatic complied with this condition by providing a local partner," IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati said in a statement.

Last week, government officials arrested three Venezuelans they suspected were in possession of sensitive election materials that were not declared at customs. The three – Jose Gregorio Camargo Castellanos, Salvador Javier Sosa Suarez and Joel Gustavo Rodriguez Garcia – will today appear before the Anti-Terror police after which their fate, whether they will be charged, deported or freed, will be known.

In the statement, Chebukati downplayed the centrality of the stickers the Venezuelans were carrying, saying the "stickers are non-strategic election material".

"The stickers were printed based on the details of the Gazette Notice published on July 1. The information therein is available to the public and can be accessed on the commission’s website. The stickers contain information on the polling station, polling centre, ward, constituency and county as well as a unique barcode," said Chebukati.

Smartmatic officials were yet to issue a statement on the saga by yesterday evening.

The company's local contact, Abdulahi Abdi Mohamed said he had contacted Smartmatic International Holding, which promised to issue a statement over the unfolding saga after the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) questioned the motive of the Venezuelans.

It has also come to the fore, Mohamed, the man adversely mentioned by DCI as the face of the saga, is a former employee of IEBC.

The trio is expected at the ATPU, Nairobi detachment office, at 10am.

Each of the Venezuelans is being investigated on being in possession of uncustomed goods and aiding an offence under the Customs and Excise Act and the Elections Act.

Sources say Mohamed worked in ICT department of the electoral commission between 2013 and 2018, when he left to venture into private business.

He was employed by the electoral agency after Issack Hassan took over as chairman and left soon after the 2017 General Election.

The Standard also established that Mohamed's father Abdi Mohamed Sheikh served as MP for Wajir East between 1992 and 1997.

Within Wajir County, and Wajir East Constituency in particular, Sheikh is known by his political moniker “Abdisalam” or “Ngamia” both which were symbols of his political campaigns in his active political days.

In its statement, DCI declared that IEBC CEO Marjan Hussein Marjan received a call from a Mr Abdisalam, who claims to be a local agent of Smartmatic, informing him that one of their staff had been detained at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, carrying IEBC stickers.

Throughout the saga, Mohamed, who is also the CEO of Seamless Limited, has projected himself as the local agent of Smartmatic, the Dutch company that won the tender to supply technology in the August poll.

“Investigators would ordinarily expect Abdulahi Abdi Mohamed to be the one to call Marjan on the incident but it was not the case. It seemed Abdisalam went to cover for Mohamed,” DCI said in its statement on Sunday.

From its lengthy statement on Sunday, DCI had neither found nor interrogated an individual by the name Abdisalam even though they cite him for having played an important in facilitating the arrival of the three into Kenya.

It is not clear why Abdisalam's name was invoked during investigations. Focus has been on Mohamed since the three foreigners were arrested. The arrest has triggered a political storm with just two weeks to the elections.

DCI believes the three foreigners were invited by Mohamed to execute unspecified roles in his office because he, Mohamed, invited, organised for visa and paid for their flight to Nairobi with a promise they would work in his office.

“It is clear from the invitation letters the three foreigners were to report to Mohamed’s office at Nairobi and not IEBC warehouse nor IEBC offices,” said Kinoti.

“It is clear the three foreigners are in Kenya solely for business with Mohamed.”