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Mystery of Dutch millionaire who vanished into thin air

Friday August 9 2019

Tobs Golf Safaris chairman Tob Cohen (left) lifts Africa’s best “Golf Tour Operators’’ Award at the La Manga Golf Resort in Murcia Spain on November 3, 2018. PHOTO | COURTESY

Tobs Golf Safaris chairman Tob Cohen (left) lifts Africa’s best “Golf Tour Operators’’ Award at the La Manga Golf Resort in Murcia Spain on November 3, 2018. He vanished between July 19 and 20 this year and has never been seen again. PHOTO | COURTESY  

JOHN KAMAU
By JOHN KAMAU
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When Dutch millionaire Tob Cohen arrived in Kenya more than three decades ago, he found three things – wealth, fame and, later, his Waterloo.

At the tail-end of a blissful life, things seemed to be going pretty bad – and rather quickly – for the 71-year-old tours and travel guru. A divorce case against his estranged 50-something-year-old wife Sarah Wairimu Kamotho, a fight over a multi-million-shilling property, and an assault case he had filed against his wife kept dogging him.

HIGH SECURITY

Then things went from bad to worse. The millionaire, a former chief executive of Dutch conglomerate Phillips East Africa, vanished between July 19 and 20 this year and has never been seen again.

“He said he was taking a break,” Mr Cohen’s wife told the Nation last evening. “Lawyers were pushing him for money and he wanted to seek medical treatment.”

His workers have told the police that Mr Cohen left his high-security compound, where CCTV cameras point to the driveway, on the afternoon of July 20 at around 2pm. They claim he only carried a briefcase and was driven off in a white car. By whom? They don’t know.

“My husband has not come home ever since,” Ms Wairimu told the Nation Thursday evening.

On Thursday, Mr Cohen’s Mercedes Benz was still parked in the compound and a powerful gate security light was still on. Nobody was home.

To outsiders, apart from a small circle of male confidants, Mr Cohen had all the fine things he wanted in life, apart from peace. He had a property worth Sh500 million in Nairobi’s Kitisuru estate, and on his speed dial were top CEOs, former legislators, and all the honchos who loved a good round of golf.

At first, his wife – well known in Nairobi social circles – had told Mr Cohen’s friends that the celebrated golf tournament organiser had left for Thailand to seek treatment, but detectives say there is no evidence from the immigration department that the missing tycoon left the country.

On Thursday, Ms Wairimu repeated the claim to the Nation: “He was to go to Thailand.”

DISAPPEARANCE

Detectives in Nairobi are not only dumbfounded by this mysterious disappearance, but also by the fact that it happened shortly after two letters, dated July 20, 2019, that purported to withdraw both the divorce and assault case were sent to Mr Cohen’s lawyers – Ms Judy Thongori for the divorce case and Mr Dunstan Omari in the assault case. The letter to Ms Thongori was stamped as received on July 24.

One of the questions that detectives assigned to the case are grappling with is: Did Mr Cohen write those two letters?

While police say there is no evidence to suggest that someone killed the well-known golfer, they also say there is no evidence to suggest someone did not.

“There are rumours all over. It is not the first time he has disappeared because my husband could go for two weeks without calling anyone,” said the estranged wife. But on July 22, Ms Wairimu is said to have gone to Kilimani Police and reported that Mr Cohen was missing.

Already, the matter is being handled by the homicide section of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and has drawn interest from the Dutch Embassy in Nairobi, where the disappearance was first reported by Mr Cohen’s Amsterdam-based sister Gabrie van Straten.

Four days before he vanished, the Nation has established Mr Cohen had played a four-ball at the Vet-Lab Sports Club together with senior golfers

“He was not sickly; he was in perfect shape,” said a golfer who has known Mr Cohen for over 30 years. “He was a good friend and we spent the entire day together.”

Detectives are also scrutinising a letter written to the Dutch Embassy in Nairobi and dated Thursday, July 18 – a day before he disappeared – and signed by Ms Sarah Kamotho alleging that “Tob has depression and mental condition he won’t address for personal reasons and this has (been) and is causing a lot of problems”.

In the letter, shown to the Nation by Dutch sources, and which we learnt was handed to Kenyan detectives, the author claims that Mr Cohen was suffering from “paranoia … hence the frequent fights with everyone”.

“He has become impossible to live with, even though we try. The family has stepped aside due to the abusive and vindictive nature of his condition,” the letter continues.

Ms Wairimu said she wrote that letter. “I was seeking help from them but they never replied to my letter. I wrote it since Tob does not listen to anybody.”

Detectives have now summoned her to get her side of the story. “This letter and the two letters sent to Mr Cohen’s lawyers are important leads,” a detective handling the case told the Nation.

The letter dated July 20, purportedly by Mr Cohen to Judy Thongori and Co Advocates, reads in part: “After a long discussion with my wife and family today, I wish to withdraw and cancel the divorce case proceedings with immediate effect. My medical state and wrong advice from friends and other lawyers and activists made me vindictive towards her. Sarah would never hurt anyone and she stood for the truth, which I did not want to see. Because of my bitterness and poor judgement I have hurt and created a lot of damage to her and the entire family.”

'MENTALLY DISTURBED'

The letter concludes: “I will seek medical attention immediately so as to make amends with my family.”

Detectives are now wondering how, if Mr Cohen was mentally disturbed as at July 19, the letter to the embassy was written by Ms Wairimu, he wrote the two letters dated July 20 and sent them to the lawyers,

But whether he left on his own, as the wife told friends, or was the victim of a crime, is a mystery of the most befuddling kind.

At the Muthaiga Golf Club, where he was a member, Mr Cohen was well known. Among golfers, he was a name to reckon with and he would fly them out for major tournaments across the world.

But in the past one month, he lived in fear over his life, according to a letter written by Mr Omari. He told his friends as much and reported the matter to the police.

According to his wife, Mr Cohen kept “engaging with the police to have me arrested and thrown out of the house”.

“He engages the media with falsehoods to make him look like a victim of assault by others and myself under pretence that he is under duress,” she said.