The curious case of a car used in Tuesday’s attack having registration details similar to another found in Kitengela is becoming a study of how corruption in the government cripples the war on terrorism.
That the car moved for weeks around Nairobi without anyone realising an anomaly puts egg on the face of security teams, the National Transport and Safety Authority, Kenya Revenue Authority and other State agencies.
A police officer told the Nairobi News last week that details of the registration number KCN 340E match those of the light-blue Toyota Ractis found at Geojoska apartments in Kitengela.
Registration details are paired with insurance information, the chassis number among other elements that police check whenever they inspect cars.
So, why didn't the grey Ractis that ferried the terrorists and their weapons arouse suspicion?
The double registration number fiasco could be the watershed moment for an illegal car registration syndicate that has been operating with the blessing of corrupt officials in State agencies.
A reliable source, who requested anonymity, said about five vehicles are registered in Kenya illegally daily, and that the racket thrives on the cars that pass through Mombasa port destined for Uganda, Rwanda and other neighbouring countries.
“They are diverted into the local market and registered with illegally acquired plates and logbooks, saving the owners hundreds of thousands of shillings,” the source said.
Last year in Nairobi, a Toyota Harrier and a Nissan Dualis that shared registration details were detained by Flying Squad officers.
It later emerged that the Harrier, which had been imported from Japan in 2016, was destined for South Sudan but somehow ended up in Kenya.
“It (the Harrier) has a fake number plate and we suspect that the owner made the plate immediately it landed here,” Mr Musa Yego, the head of Flying Squad, said.
Our informant said the Prisons Department, which is charged with making the plates, is one of the players in the corrupt scheme.
“The gap in the system appears to be at Kenya Prisons Service where people are bribing officials to have duplicate plates,” the informant said.
The source accused rogue officers within the service of facilitating the distribution of plates outside the normal procedures.
Thanks to collusion by government officials, the vehicles then get counterfeit logbooks.
The next hurdle would ideally be getting insured, which is a must before a car is allowed on Kenyan roads.
To beat the rigorous checks, an underground system has been thriving.
“These vehicles are only insured for third party cover, for which no inspection is required. A proper insurance inspection is likely to observe discrepancies in chassis numbers and vehicle details such as variation in colour,” the source said.
“The entire process involves collusion among officials at KRA, Kenya Prisons and insurance brokers.”
The taxman admitted handling cases of fraudulent car registration among its employees.
“KRA has investigated cases where our staff have aided irregular registration of motor vehicles and disciplinary action has been taken against such employees, including taking them to court,” KRA commissioner for customs and border control Kenneth Ochola said in a statement to the Sunday Nation.
To stem the vice, Mr Ochola said KRA employs checks to ensure vehicles destined for other countries are not dumped in Kenya.
The procedures, he said, are done by the cargo monitoring division that observes vehicles and other loads in transit.
“We use the regional electronic tracking system and electronic cargo tracking system which is managed by KRA licensed cargo tracking companies,” Mr Ochola added.
“In respect to vehicles for home use and warehousing, the same is processed through the simba system while the transit ones are processed through the respective systems (Asycuda) in the destination country. The same is handled by respective partner states' officers seconded to Kenya.”
Last year, KRA’s commissioner for investigations and enforcement David Yego told the Sunday Nation of a fraudulent import scheme for cars, especially high-end ones, where the aim is to evade taxes.
“The authority suspects that there are more vehicles out there,” Mr Yego said, in reference to a list of 121 cars whose details KRA had released in relation to tax avoidance.
NTSA director-general Francis Meja did not comment on the syndicate when contacted.
Commissioner of Prisons Isaiah Osugo denied reports of the department distributing illegal number plates.
He said it is an "allegation I have been hearing for years".
“When I was with CID, we used to hear stories of fake number plates coming from prisons,” he said.
Additional reporting by W. Githae