The police plan to recall all firearms owned by civilians for inspection after revelations that a criminal syndicate has been supplying parallel licences by manipulating the security system and bypassing stringent rules.
About 100 such cases are said to be under investigation and more are being unearthed every day.
Sunday Nation inquiries have found that those determined to own a gun have been paying a “facilitation fee” of between Sh200,000 and Sh300,000 to the criminal ring, mostly involving police officers, yet the official application fee for a firearm is Sh2,000.
The amount excludes the cost of buying the gun which depends on the preferred model and the dealer.
The criminal ring is believed to have thrived for years until it was discovered late last year. It involves unscrupulous officers who infiltrated the civilian firearms registry, working closely with brokers.
Chief Licencing Officer Samuel Kimaru has asked all licenced civilian firearm holders to visit his office to have their records verified.
“We are recalling all of them so that they can help us. A firearm is a dangerous weapon. It is not a spoon, it is lethal,” he said.
Some civilian gun licence holders who fell victim to the syndicate have in recent weeks had their firearms and certificates confiscated when they went for renewal.
It was a shock for many of them because they had been renewing their licences at the Kenya Police Licensing Bureau every year without a hitch.
The latest was businessman Andrew White and his wife Joy Mboya, who are being investigated after their licences were found to have been issued by the cartel.
Mr White has been in the news since last year when he alleged former MP Betty Tett attempted to hire a hitman to kill him. She was, however, cleared.
The syndicate was busted by Mr Kimaru after he was transferred to the bureau in September last year.
He told the Sunday Nation: “There is a new team here in this office. Most of the cases happened long before and so some of those who were involved are no longer in this office. If it is established that the officers were part of it, they will face the consequences because as an officer of the law, you must never get involved in this kind of deals. As an officer you are entrusted with law enforcement by wananchi.”
“The suspicion is that those behind this scam had collaborators here (at licensing bureau). We shall clean up this section and in the next phase people will be going to court (to face charges),” he added.
Mr Kimaru also revealed some of the tricks the criminal ring has been using to get clients.
For instance, applicants would be approached and told the government had placed a moratorium on all civilian licences and the only option was one’s details to be sneaked in the waiting list already in the systems — as long as one could pay a “facilitation fee”.
A senior security officer who requested anonymity told the Sunday Nation that businessmen from the Asian community were particularly of interest to the cartel because they easily parted with up to Sh1 million.
The rules require that each licenced gun owner should have a file, but police sources say the system appears to have been manipulated to the extent that several people share the same file while some serial numbers are similar.
The most astonishing aspect, he says, is that all these details had been entered into the security system.
National Police Service spokesman Charles Owino said: “It is true we have found people in possession of certificates with similar serial numbers. A few licences are thus similar and therefore we have confiscated them for purposes of investigation to establish the truth, if they were printed by mistake or are fake.”
HOW THEY OPERATE
He urged anybody seeking to own a licenced gun to go through the proper process right from the officer in charge of the nearest police station to the final stage.
“We are encouraging people to apply and reject any ‘assistance’ they may be offered,” he said.
A separate source told the Sunday Nation that the syndicate produced its own firearm registers, which are basically booklets that authorise one to purchase a gun and ammunition from a dealer before the certificate is issued.
The certificate is usually an electronic card the size of an ATM card, and the owner is required to carry it when armed.
The booklet is required once a year during renewal of the licence.
Information in the booklet corresponds to details in the electronic certificate, and the same data is also recorded in individuals’ file at the registry.
“And to cover their tracks, when the cartels issue a fake booklet, they escort the applicant to a firearms dealer to negotiate the buying of the weapon. There are a handful dealers in Kenya."
Unofficial figures seen by the Sunday Nation indicated that licensed firearm holders do not exceed 10,000.
“Once a gun has been purchased this way, the applicant is escorted back to the licencing office, where details of the transaction – type and model of gun, serial number and of course calibre and amount of ammunition – is fed into into the civilian firearms register.”
“These details are in the system and any casual checks will not indicate any suspicion,” said a source, who spoke in confidence.
Mr Kimaru has since issued a new directive to the dealers.
“Right now I’ve told all dealers that before they sell any gun they must call me, or my deputy on my direct office line so that I can counter-check the details their customer is giving. If they don’t find me or my deputy there is no way they can sell. And they must also file weekly returns to me,” he said.
Mr Kimaru also revealed that “a good number of gun owners have surrendered their guns to their dealers,” after the crackdown started.
“Since this matter was publicised, very many Kenyans have come to our offices to have theirs checked. But we confiscated a firearm because it was among the suspicious ones. We have handed the licence to document experts. We shall decide on his case after we get back the evidence,” he said.
On the recent case involving Mr White and Ms Mboya, they had walked to the Central Firearms Bureau Nairobi headquarters to renew their licences but their weapons, Taurus pistols serial number THU02119 and THY88863, were confiscated.
They had certificate numbers 9718 and 9716 but they were informed that they belonged to a Mr G. Nyamaku and M. Talaal, respectively, who had actually registered the firearms two months before the accused persons registered for the same.
Mr White and his wife presented their documents for renewal on November 10, last year.
The licences were due to expire on November 25. Mr Kimaru had asked for their files but his officers established their details did not exist at the registry.
“Even if the process is tedious, a gun holder must be known right from the division he or she comes from. In the licencing process, we check one’s criminal record and, by extension, the crime trends of the areas he or she comes from to determine the level of security threat,” he added.
On his part, Mr Owino said: “We also appreciate the role played by private gun holders in fighting insecurity. Like in the case of Westgate (in September 2013), they played a very good role. However, any case of misuse of firearms, either by an officer or civilian, the weapon is confiscated and action taken.”
Application for a firearm is usually a thorough process, which in most cases tends to take long as details are verified.
If an applicant is within Nairobi, the process takes between one and one and a half months. If the applicant is in a rural area, then the process takes two or three months.