At the reception of Fai Omar Amario’s Naivasha winery hangs a portrait of an ape wearing formal attire and a top hat.
The caption reads: “You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps.”
And the incorrigible workaholic had what passed for silly, out-of-this-planet ideas that he converted through dogged persistence into a nine-digit fortune.
But his business acumen was marred by criminal convictions on charges ranging from murder and handling stolen goods to running a carjacking racket.
“Neither the school authorities nor the local chief had any problem with him. We are all shocked about what we read in the papers like everyone else,” a person who knew him from his early life said at the time.
Indeed, were it not for his brushes with the law, Fai Amario, when stripped down to bare essentials, was a showcase of insatiable ambition wrapped in an unflagging zeal.
He was first arrested on suspicion of murdering his wife Sarah Wanjiru who went missing in 1996, and it was suspected that she was buried in Amario’s compound. Using earthmovers, the police dug up the compound eight years later and emptied septic tanks but found only motor vehicle spare parts.
In the same year -- 1996 -- it was alleged that Amario, aka Peter Gilbert Njoroge Ng’ang’a,, had a hand in the death of Gitau Karago, the deputy manager at his Murang’a depot.
Karago had called Amario on Boxing Day 1995 and informed him that Sh212,000 was missing. Amario sacked Karago together with Makimei Njoroge, the depot’s manager, after the two failed to reveal the whereabouts of the money.
It was later found that Karago had been forging bank deposits.
He was found dead a week after his sacking in Naivasha with Njoroge unconscious beside him.
A six-inch nail had been hammered into Karago’s head. Njoroge pointed at his former boss and three other men as the culprits, but Amario insisted that Karago was “mauled while walking in the hyena-infested Mirera area of Naivasha”.
Amario was charged with murder in January 1996, but the State dropped the charges five months later.
He was later arrested on fresh charges of robbing a worker of Sh15,000 at gunpoint.
He was remanded at Makuyu before being transferred to the Industrial Area Remand Prison in Nairobi where he was accused of smuggling in food.
In October that year, Amario was transferred to the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison “where he couldn’t smuggle in anything”.
And, as Amario pleaded his innocence, arguing that he was a “victim of state persecution”, the fortunes of his distillery went south.
The more than Sh1 million he had left in his bank account had been run into the sands, forcing him to start almost from scratch when he was finally released in 1999.
His then wife Sally and five children had run away. He was forced to close down three factories even as the Kenya Revenue Authority was breathing down his neck for tax evasion dating back five years.
Worse was to come in 2004 when Amario “cooled porridge” at Kamiti following a robbery-with-violence charge, a capital offence.
Apparently Amario was charged with robbing businessman Mulraj Kanji Patel of his Toyota Land Cruiser, two wrist watches, a gold necklace, a bracelet, two cell phones and Sh22,000 all valued at Sh2.8 million.
In addition to violent robbery, he was charged with being the head of a car theft syndicate.
Upon his arrest, police recovered vehicle spare parts and eight upscale vehicles at his home in Lake View Estate, Nairobi.
But in October 2005, magistrate Rosemelle Mutoka found him guilty of handling a stolen car and sentenced him to nine years at Kamiti Prison.
The vehicle, a Honda CRV, was found at Fai’s Den, his Naivasha hotel, three months after it was reported stolen from Lawrence Gacheru Kibare on June 30 that year.
In his defence, Amario said he had never seen Kibare, and neither was he picked out in an identification parade.
He was imprisoned for a fourth time. He pleaded for mercy, saying his children and business needed him. He was released three years later.
Before his imprisonment in 1996, Amario admitted that money meant everything to him.
“I had dreamt of acquiring a helicopter. But Kamiti has taught me not to think like a money minded Kenyan. Now I have a different crusade: to change this country and make it more civilised.”
Before his death and burial last Saturday, he had leased out Fai’s Den, which has since been renamed Flower Hotel.
For a long time, police had tried in vain to arrest Amario for highway robberies and carjackings along the Naivasha-Nakuru highway.
Over time detectives from the Criminal Investigations Unit had gathered information about Amario’s criminal activities.
The intelligence included carjacking of high-value four-wheel drive vehicles on the Naivasha-Nakuru highway, dismantling of the vehicles and transporting them in trucks disguised as his winery’s products to Tanzania where they would be quickly re-assembled, registered and sold to unsuspecting customers.
When police raided his home to search for clues on the disappearance of one of his wives, they found, among other things, 10 unlicensed shotguns in a bedroom, seven brand new but dismantled Toyota Prado and Mitsubishi four-wheel drive vehicles, and about 20 computers.
“When we went to his compound, everyone, including police in the area, were shocked that we had the guts to raid Amario’s home. He seemed to wield a lot of power and could intimidate even government officers. He even offered us Sh1 million bribe not to search the home,” a senior detective who was among those in the operation said.
Police said the recovered vehicles had been reported stolen from motorists on the Nakuru-Naivasha highway.
Following the raid, police charged Amario and his then wife Bernice with being illegally in possession of stolen vehicles and firearms.
On being jailed for nine years, Amario is reported to have threatened to cause harm to the magistrate, forcing detectives to place a round-the- clock security for the judicial officer.
Police officers involved in the operation that resulted in Amario’s nine-year jail term were also given extra security.
The elite police unit then set out to track, arrest or kill his accomplices.
The last gang member was killed in Embu during a botched robbery. The suspected gangster had gone into hiding there after all other accomplices had either been killed by police or jailed.