MP, Ruto staffers face probe in Sh40bn fake arms scandal

Wednesday March 18 2020
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Deputy President William Ruto addresses an event at Kericho Teachers Training College on February 15, 2020. His office has been implicated in a fraud scheme. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By VINCENT ACHUKA

Fourteen officials from Harambee House Annex, the building that houses the office of the Deputy President, have been identified for questioning by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) as more explosive details about the Sh40 billion fake arms deal continue to unravel.

These include a vocal female MP from central Kenya who was instrumental in convincing the directors of Eco Advanced Technologies LLC that they were in good hands and that they will clinch the deal.

On Monday, detectives camped at both Harambee House Annex and at the Department of Defence headquarters at Ulinzi House. They were in the company of Mr Mustafa Mamdough, a director of Eco Advanced Technologies.

The meeting between the MP and Mr Stanley Kozlowoski, the chief executive of the American firm, took place towards the end of October last year at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) on the sidelines of the Homes Expo that was taking place in the facility.

Mr Kozlowoski had arrived in the country with Mr Mamdough on October 19 to a lavish reception at the invitation of former Sports Cabinet Secretary Rashid Echesa.

ELABORATE SCHEME

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Every aspect of their arrival and the one week they spent in the country was what you would expect for guests of the State, including chauffeured cars, security and handlers. Upon arrival, they were taken to a high-end hotel in Karen.

Their company had, on October 2, just two weeks before their arrival in Nairobi, received an email that had been made to appear that it came from the Government of Kenya, asking them to provide a quotation for the services they can offer for a military deal.

Mr Kozlowoski obliged. A few days later, a different email came from a firm that identified itself as Pzels Company Limited, based in Nairobi, that claimed it had the right connections to clinch the deal for Eco Advanced Technologies.

And, as part of the process, Eco Advanced Technologies was invited to send its representatives to Nairobi to be introduced to high-ranking officials in the military and government who could pull the necessary strings.

CONSULTANCY

What Mr Kozlowoski did not know is that he was dealing with a sophisticated criminal ring that police now believe was also behind a gang that in February last year conned Sameer Africa chairman Naushad Merali out of Sh10 million by pretending to be President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Interestingly, Mr Echesa was fired around the same time the Sh10 million scam happened. It has never been revealed why he was pushed out of office.

A day after arriving in Nairobi, Mr Kozlowoski and Mr Mamdough met with Mr Echesa at Plaza 2000 on Mombasa Road.

Pzels Limited is located on the first floor of the building. “Pzel’s mission is to provide you with profound solutions and a broad range of investment options to meet your individual needs. We do this by devising and executing the most innovating, customised answers to the most challenging issues in the global financial marketplace; we are dedicated to finding good returns, with controlled risk,” says the company on its website.

It is here that the two directors were formally offered consultancy services that were supposed to help them navigate their way through Kenya’s murky world of tenders.

RIGHT 'CONNECTIONS'

For starters, the company was supposed to pay Sh11.5 million as introductory and consultancy fees. Another Sh55 million was to be paid on the signing of the contract.

Finally, 10 per cent of the total contract price of Sh39.5 billion was to be wired to Pzel before Eco Advanced Technologies started shipping the military equipment to Kenya.

This 10 per cent, which amounts to Sh3.9 billion, they were told, is standard practice for all tenders in Kenya, paid as a sign of gratitude to those who made it happen.

But to clinch the deal, they were told they needed two things — political and military connections.

Mr Echesa’s role, courtesy of his deep links in Kenya’s political circles, was to make sure the government plays ball.

In papers filed in court on Monday, Mr Echesa was charged with, among other things, claiming he was a personal assistant to DP William Ruto, which he denied. Mr Echesa is one of Mr Ruto’s political allies.

VIP TREATMENT

After the Mombasa Road meeting, another two took place in quick succession — one at a high-end hotel in Karen and another at a restaurant in Hurlingham.

It is in these two meetings that the directors of the American firm were introduced to a ''General Juma''.

It turns out the fake general was Mr Daniel Otieno Omondi, a former corporal in the National Police Service.

He arrived at both meetings in a fleet of cars with military registration numbers, two bodyguards and an aide who never left his side.

Both the general and his security were in military uniform on the two occasions.

It is after the Hurlingham meeting that Mr Kozlowoski claims he was taken to Ulinzi House to discuss the finer details of the contract.

In between, he was taken for a courtesy call at KICC to meet the female legislator from Mt Kenya who, it is claimed, also had deep connections in government.

Just like at the airport, the two representatives from Eco Advanced Technologies were given VIP treatment on arrival at both KICC and DOD.

RUTO BLAMELESS

They even used a lift reserved for VIPs to access the office of the MP. The Ministry of Defence on Monday denied that there ever was such a meeting at their premises.

“The complainants have never been to Ulinzi House as alleged and have never interacted with any official mandated to represent the Ministry of Defence,” Mr Bogita Ongeri, the Director of Public Communications, said.

This is as DP Ruto, who has been under fire after his office emerged as one of the scenes of crime in the scandal, continued to distance himself from the scam.

“The Deputy President was not at the office at the time, as he was working from his Karen office before he left to attend a funeral in Murang’a County that morning. On checking his diary, there was no such an appointment,” Mr Ruto's spokesman, Mr David Mugonyi, said.

TENDER APPROVED

“The Deputy President considers this a very serious matter involving a government office. And, being an issue that has recurred in many such offices, he wants investigations expedited devoid of political and media propaganda.”

Sources from the DCI, however, said they are still looking into the possibility that military or DOD officials were involved in the scandal.

It is after the alleged meeting at Ulinzi House that things started moving fast.

In less than a week, Eco Advanced Technologies received a letter notifying them that they had been awarded the contract.

“We hereby accept the award and confirm that we will sign and execute the contract as per the terms and conditions stipulated therein to the tune of USD 395 million. We also acknowledge the contract duration to be six years from the date of signing,” an acceptance letter signed by Mr Kozlowoski on October 25 reads.

This was just six days after Mr Kozlowoski’s arrival in Nairobi.

Thereafter, the scammers would visit Poland back and forth as part of the ''procurement'' process to ostensibly examine the equipment that Kenya was supposed to buy.

UNDER SURVEILLANCE

Unbeknown to them, the National Intelligence Service had been monitoring their activities and passing the same information to the investigating agencies. What remained was an opportune time to arrest the suspects.

The correct time did come on Thursday last week after Mr Echesa and his two co-accused arrived at Harambee House Annex early in the morning to ''sign the contract''.

The three arrived through Gate A in the company of the two directors of the American company and headed straight to the VIP lifts.

As VIP guests, they were not even frisked. CCTV footage obtained from the DP’s office shows them having tea and water and signing some documents before Mr Echesa leaves.

But Mr Kozlowoski had noticed something unusual at the DP’s office.

ECHESA ARRESTED

In his statement to the police, the CEO said he was surprised that ''General Juma'' was not dressed in military fatigues on the day the contract was supposed to be signed despite the fact that it was a very important event. He was in a broken suit and did not have his aide or bodyguards in tow.

When Mr Echesa excused himself, he said he needed to get two final signatures from Treasury and from DOD as they awaited the DP who, he said, was held up in a meeting with some diplomats.

The former CS was arrested a few steps from the DP’s office as his vehicle drove into a roadblock set up by DCI detectives.