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Man caught with python set free after Uhuru pays Sh1m fine

Friday February 21 2020

WINNIE ATIENO
By WINNIE ATIENO
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A man sentenced to two years in prison for carrying a python without a permit has been set free following President Uhuru Kenyatta's intervention.

Coast Regional Coordinator John Elungata said on Friday that Benedict Karisa was released from Shimo La Tewa Prison in Mombasa County after President Kenyatta paid the alternative Sh1 million fine.

Mr Elungata also said Mr Karisa was given Sh8,340 for transport to his home in Mtwapa, Kilifi County.

The 33-year-old was apprehended at the Likoni crossing on the morning of February 11 with a 10 kg python measuring 2.3 metres.

He had wrapped the reptile in a white bed sheet and put it in a black suitcase for transportation to a snake farm at Ukunda in Diani, Kwale County.

A report by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) stated that he did not have a permit.

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UPROAR

Following his arrest, Mr Karisa was taken to the Likoni Ferry Police Station, where he recorded a statement, and was arraigned on February 14.

There was an uproar, however, after Mombasa Resident Magistrate Vincent Adet issued the prison sentence.

The magistrate explained that the accused knew he needed a permit as he had worked for the KWS.

But via social media, some members of the public poked holes into his quick arraignment, noting that big fish in various cases had not been punished in any way.

The public also noted that the man only engaged in a humane act.

FAMILY TRADE

Mr Karisa told the Nation his story in an exclusive interview at his family's home in Mtwapa.

He spoke of his father, Jackson Charo, who has rescued snakes and ferried them to a park in Diani for more than 40 years.

Mr Charo, 70, has mastered the trade and created his own niche in the industry, earning himself the nickname ''snakeman''.

He has passed his skills on to his son but Mr Karisa's career was nearly ruined that day, when he was screened by Kenya Ferry Services security officers.

PERMIT FORGOTTEN

Mr Karisa said his father called and sent him to fetch the snake from Mtwapa.

“Every time my father is called by villagers to go and fetch a snake, he asks me to transport it to Diani for safe custody. This has been the norm but this time round I was nabbed at around 8am at the Likoni channel. I called my father and informed him of the development,” he said.

“I had forgotten my permit. I realised my goose was cooked."

When he was taken to court, the magistrate also noted that he did not give a convincing explanation on why he had the snake, which he ordered surrendered to the KWS for safekeeping.

Mr Karisa told the court where he was taking it and pleaded to be released, saying he is a father of five, who also cares for orphans.

He was sentenced to two years in prison with the alternative of paying the fine.

LADY LUCK

Lady Luck smiled at him on Friday, when prison wardens called Mr Karisa and told him some visitors wanted to see him.

“I realised it was the Mombasa OCPD accompanied by the prison commandant. The former informed me he had been sent to take me to the regional coordinator's office, where my family was waiting for me. I went there and was informed that President Kenyatta had paid my fine,” he said.

Mr Karisa said Coast Regional Coordinator John Elungata gave him Sh8,340 for fare back home. 

He said he was also promised money to start a business of his choice in order to stop transporting snakes.

Moved by the gesture, he thanked President Kenyatta for saving his life and his career.

“Although I pleaded guilty and acknowledged my mistakes, when I was sentenced to two years in prison, I felt so bad and became sick. I didn’t expect to be jailed or even fined," he said.

"I had no bad intentions. My mistake was failing to walk with my permit."

Mr Karisa noted that he also educates villagers on reptiles and their benefits

“What made me angry was being punished for working while those who steal from the public coffers are set free. I had gotten accustomed to jail life but God is good. He had other plans," he said.