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Mystery of Sh2b alcohol stolen from Humphrey Kariuki firm under police watch

By Kamore Maina and Daniel Wesangula | June 14th 2020
Businessman Humprey Kariuki in the dock at a Milimani court. [George Njunge/Standard]

Evidence worth billions of shillings has mysteriously disappeared from billionaire Humphrey Kariuki’s warehouse and factory in Thika.

The disappearance has put the mogul on a collision course once again with the State that has been investigating him since August last year.

Both the police and Kariuki’s representatives deny having any knowledge of the disappearance of alcohol worth some Sh2 billion.

Also missing is an unknown amount of ethanol, now in high demand for the manufacture of hand sanitisers critical in the management of the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The ethanol was part of the exhibits that the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) and the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) were to present as evidence in a Sh41 billion tax evasion and fraud case against the billionaire and his eight staff members.

Kariuki, whose two companies – Africa Spirits Limited and WoW Beverages – are accused of manufacturing substandard alcohol, has described himself in various interviews as a “first generation serial entrepreneur”.

From a 10-child household in Nyeri, he grew up to build one of the biggest business empires in Kenya. Authorities insist that part of the foundation that his business empire was built on cannot stand against scrutiny.

Now key exhibits in a crucial case have disappeared and both the police and Kariuki’s handlers are pointing an accusing finger at each other.

In spite of numerous inquiries by the Sunday Standard, no one has managed to offer a probable explanation for the loss of the merchandise.

DCI chief George Kinoti did not respond to our multiple text and WhatsApp messages and calls for a comment on the matter.

The Sunday Standard has also established that Kiambu DCI boss Jeremiah Ikiao has been instructed to open investigation into the missing exhibits.

At the same time, the multi-agency team has resolved to tour the factory daily for security checks. DCI and GSU officers have since been deployed to guard the premises.

Since the beginning of the case in August 2019, a multi-agency team comprising officers from the KRA, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) as well as the DCI were charged with securing the property that housed the exhibits.

Empty warehouses

It is individuals from this same team who, while conducting a routine security check two weeks ago, walked into empty warehouses.

No doors were broken. No window grilles were cut. There were no signs of forced entry. Everything seemed to be in order except for the missing alcohol and ethanol.

There were no reports made to a nearby police station either.

Before the theft, security checks were initially meant to be conducted on a weekly basis.

But this arrangement was changed towards the end of last year when the patrols were turned to monthly affairs.

After this, the factory was then put under the watch of armed officers from Thika Police Station.

The instructions were strict -- there were to be no people going in or out without express permission from their seniors.

Not even those guarding the premises had access to the plant and reviews of the contents of the premise were only done by members of the MATT security team assigned to the case.

And to further make it hard for any of the members of the multi-agency team to access the factory without informing other parties, DCI officers were allowed to keep the keys of all the rooms where the exhibits were stored.

The KRA officers were responsible for the security seals on the doors. This meant that anyone seeking to gain access into the warehouse had to inform KRA and DCI officers.

For one to forcefully gain access to the premise, they would have to first jump through an eight-foot stone perimeter wall to either bring down the reinforced steel doors or cut through the window grilles.

The alternative would be to shoot their way through the armed police base at the entrance of the go-down before cutting off metallic seals that had been fastened to all doors after the high-profile and televised raid by the police at the premises.

None of these happened though. Instead, it seemed that the looters simply walked in, loaded their trucks and drove off with minimum resistance. Past the wall, the steel gates, the armed officers, and moved away, slipping through the round-the-clock security without raising an eyebrow.

Minus the exhibits

There were no signs of forced entry. Neither were there reports of any shootouts.

Those behind the heist moved in and out without the slightest of disturbances.

When the multi-agency team visited last Friday, the heavy gauge metal doors and locks were all intact. The only thing out of place was the gaping hole where the alcohol and ethanol once lay in bottles and barrels, respectively.

The factory was declared a crime scene on the evening of January 31, 2019, after DCI officers raided it in search of contraband and what they termed as fake KRA stamps.

At the time, DCI chief George Kinoti said the police had recovered 21 million counterfeit stamps from the tax collector that were disguised as water labels and which KRA officials estimated would amount to a Sh6 billion loss to the government were they to hit the market.

Kariuki, together with other senior staff of the company, were charged with nine counts relating to tax evasion amounting to Sh41 billion, according to figures provided by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

While approving the case, DPP Noordin Haji said an audit by the KRA revealed that Africa Spirits Limited/WOW Beverages Limited had evaded the payment of tax between 2014 and 2019.

The matter of Kariuki vs the State is still before the courts, but minus one crucial element – the exhibits.

“It was shocking and we could not understand how anybody could gain access into the warehouses,” said an officer who is part of the MATT team.

He requested anonymity because he is not authorised to publicly talk about the case.

Yesterday, Kariuki, through his lawyer Kioko Kilukumi, said he was aware of reports of initial theft of exhibits from the factory.

“I have heard that some police officers were taken to court for either consuming or stealing alcohol from the warehouse. I’m yet to get anything more,” Kilukumi said on the phone.

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