Investigations into fuel siphoning from the Mombasa-Nairobi pipeline has taken a new twist after detectives turned their attention to Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) staff.
Sources familiar with the ongoing search for the masterminds of the scheme, where a pipe was welded onto the 20-inch KPC line and an unknown amount of fuel stolen in Mlolongo, said there is suspicion of collusion between insiders and suspected criminals.
KPC acting managing director Hudson Andambi confirmed that some officials had been asked to shed light into the matter that led to loss of fuel for at least six months.
Mr Andambi did not disclose which officials were being investigated, only saying they were being questioned “based on the nature of their work”.
“They are not being summoned as suspects. They are just being questioned based on their work and to find out what they can contribute to efforts to nail the masterminds of this well-organised syndicate. If any of our staff is involved, we will soon know because we have key suspects who were found on the site and a few others have already been arrested and questioned by the police,” Mr Andambi told the Nation.
Top on the list of those being questioned, according to our sources, are the security and surveillance teams that patrol the pipeline on the ground and by helicopter.
Managers who supervised the building of the line, which has been operational for one year, are also helping with investigations.
Of interest to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations is the possibility that the illegal connection could have been done during the construction of the Sh48 billion pipeline.
There are also questions on why the mandatory leak detection system, which would have sent an alert on the illegal connection, was not installed in the 450-kilometre line.
“There is no way you can punch and weld that pipeline once fuel flow has begun. Even if it was empty, which is very rare, fumes alone would explode on you when you try to weld it. The illegal connection was also so professionally done that there is no doubt engineers and trained welders were involved,” the source told the Nation.
So meticulous was the plan that it took more than two weeks for the investigators to trace the owner of the plot that had been fenced off and disguised as a construction site from where a tunnel was dug straight to the pipeline and a valve created to draw fuel.
The investigators are also interested in where the stolen oil is eventually sold, with some marketers also on the radar.
The seven suspects arrested over the oil theft syndicate were on Monday last week released on cash bail and bonds as investigations continue.
The truck, disguised as a water bowser but which was being loaded with fuel, is being held at Mlolongo Police Station, while its contents were emptied at KPC for safe keeping as the investigations continues.
The suspects include two who were found loading fuel at the site, the owner of the 10,000-litre tanker, and four others alleged to be running the distribution network for the stolen fuel.
One suspect, who escaped from police at the site through a tunnel, remains at large with his phone, which he left behind, providing crucial leads.
KPC is yet to determine how much fuel the suspected cartel may have stolen from the site believed to have been operating since 2018.
Mr Andambi said the quantities are being reconciled in addition to the fuel recovered from the site.
Mlolongo DCIO Vincent Kipkorir said the police are narrowing down on key fuel theft suspects after those arrested gave crucial leads.
He said the “lower cadre” in the alleged syndicate had been taken to court but investigators are now focusing on the masterminds.
“We have good leads and soon we are going to get them. It obviously has higher hands than the ones we have questioned so far but I cannot disclose to you beyond this – just know that this week you can expect more arrests,” Mr Kipkorir said.
The massive Mlolongo oil theft is the fourth such reported case in the past two years, raising concerns over the real scale of loss the firm could be going through every day in the pipeline network stretching 1,342 kilometres across the country.
Such fuel losses are eventually passed down to consumers who are forced to dig deeper into their pockets to fund the oil marketing companies protected by a Transport and Services Agreement that grants them compensation for losses up to 0.25 percent of the product in the pipeline.
This means the pipeline losses can be as high as 2,500 litres every hour on the Mombasa-Nairobi pipeline alone.
As at September 2018, close to six million litres had been stolen from the KPC pipes including the June 2017 Koru theft where a businessman is suspected to have built a petrol station near the KPC line and hooked a pipe diverting fuel to his station.
The case is at a Kisumu court.
Oil marketers who demanded an audit of the KPC storage facilities to unravel the depth of fuel losses are yet to release the results of what was originally meant to take seven weeks but has now gone beyond seven months.
This is due to disagreement between the marketers and the London-based Channoil Consulting over the figures provided.