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Monday, 26 June 2017
Money, power and politics: The covert life of Kenya’s James Bond
SUNDAY JUNE 25 2017
Businessman Jimi Wanjigi (left) talks to Nasa co-principal Kalonzo Musyoka during a rally at Uhuru Park on April 27, 2017. On April 2003, Mr Wanjigi’s Kwacha Group was allowed to install and operate VSAT (very small aperture terminal) for data service such as internet and e-mail. PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Before he rose to financial fame, Mr Wanjigi worked at his father’s company in Westlands, Nairobi.
His company, Tyl Limited, cut deals running into hundreds of millions of shillings.
Mr Wanjigi had also been involved in the multimillion-shilling telecommunication business.
Jimi Richard Wanjigi is the poster child of what is broken about the Kenyan dream — the burning desire to accumulate a fortune, by whatever means.
The business and political influence, Savile Row suits, gold-plated rimless glasses and fat bank accounts are not, by all accounts, from a diligent application of honest labour, but wheeler-dealing.
His house at 44 Muthaiga Road, a stone’s throw away from the residence of the United States ambassador, is what he has to show for the time he has hobnobbed with the wealthy and the loaded.
Here, those close to him say, he lives like a king: A heated swimming pool, helipad for his Eurocopter registration 5Y-JWJ, a bunker and a compound with top-of-the-line security features.
Buddies call him James Bond — the stylish secret agent, “Special Agent 007” character created by English author Ian Flemming in the 1960s and acted in iconic films.
But Mr Wanjigi is more than James Bond.
Unlike other political financiers who show off their riches, Mr Wanjigi is most secretive.
Of late, and ever since the assassination of his rowdy friend Jacob Juma, the shadowy tenderpreneur has retreated from public places into exclusive clubs and for a reason. Mr Wanjigi, his friends say, has become paranoid.
“The death of Jacob Juma scared him. He thinks that it was a warning shot directed at him," a source close to him said.
“The only two places he frequents are the high-end Caramel Restaurant & Lounge at ABC Place (on Nairobi’s Waiyaki Way) and his office (at Gen Mathenge Drive).”
TIES TO NASA While some sources say he has interests in the restaurant, the brand is associated with Dubai’s dollar billionaire Mohammed Al Hashimi, who heads the multimillion-dollar Dubai-based private equity company Zabeel Investments.
So secretive is Mr Wanjigi that, until recently, no newsroom had his picture.
As the race for State House gains momentum, Mr Wanjigi has emerged as the powerful behind-the-scenes operator within the Raila Odinga-led National Super Alliance (Nasa) — a political outfit that brings together both conservative and left-wing politicos of yesteryears in a bid to take over from President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party.
GITHONGO AND WANJIGI Interestingly, the group also brings in intellectuals and progressives such as economist David Ndii, anti-graft crusader John Githongo and lawyer George Kegoro.
Here, a congruence of interests is creating strange bed-fellows.
That Mr Githongo is in the same camp with Mr Wanjigi is a paradox since, when he fled to exile, it was claimed in Parliament that Mr Wanjigi was after his life.
While Mr Wanjigi hardly appears at Nasa’s political rallies, his name has been mentioned as one of the major donors to its campaign fund, a position that gives him an edge over the small-time contributors.
FUNDING PARTIES Recently, street banners with his image appeared on Nairobi highways — perhaps a crude attempt at showcasing the capture of politics by influential members of the “millionaires club” who fund political activities of different parties in return for an opportunity to cut big tender deals.
How he will translate this influence into his favour — in case of a Nasa victory — is a matter of conjecture.
It is not the first time local and international businessmen and corporations have stepped in to fund political parties, with some giving money to both sides of the narrow political divide — a practice not unique to Kenya but present in all democracies where political funding is a tightly held secret.
Son of former Cabinet minister James Maina Wanjigi, the emergence of the young Mr Wanjigi is, perhaps, going to be the talk of the political season — on how one man can take it upon himself to bankroll a political party.
In the United Kingdom, for instance, successive governments have faced scandals over allegations that donors were buying power through donors’ clubs, under which wealthy people buy access to senior politicians at private dinners and meetings.
Thanks to the Kenyan taxpayer, whose money he has plundered with impunity through Anglo Leasing-type contracting, Mr Wanjigi sits, like a spider, at the center of a web of the trappings of wealth and power.
Among his fleet of aircraft is the helicopter operated by Lady Lori (K) Limited, a company owned by American couple Jim and Lori de Nooyer.
In the aviation register, the plane is listed as owned by Tyl Limited of UAE — a shell company registered in the Isle of Man but whose beneficial owner is Mr Wanjigi. The company is also incorporated in Kenya.
EDUCATION It is this company that he has used over the years to transact business abroad — and make payments to different people locally, including politicians.
Before he rose to financial fame, Mr Wanjigi worked at his father’s company in Westlands, Nairobi, where he had found solace after he returned from the University of York, having enrolled at the Canadian institution in 1982 shortly after leaving St Mary’s School, Nairobi.
“He left the university before graduating,” a York alumnus said.
Like other St Mary’s alumni, the fabled school, which was the bastion of privilege in the 1970s and 1980s, Mr Wanjigi easily found his way into the governing class — thanks to strong political and business networks of his father and close allies.
WILSON BOINETT In his early years, before power, opulence and influence found space in his life, the young Mr Wanjigi opened an office on 5th Floor, Ukulima Plaza, and every morning he would drive a red Mercedes Benz into the allocated slot, or a silver Benz.
It was then that he became friends with Brigadier (Rtd) Wilson Boinett, who had been appointed to head the Special Branch in 1995 with a singular agenda of transforming the spy agency from a tool for the suppression of dissent to intelligence gathering.
By this time, the opposition had been weakened by wrangling within Ford-Kenya, pitting its leader Wamalwa Kijana against Raila Odinga.
The source of acrimony was allegations that Mr Wamalwa, as Public Accounts Committee chairman, had received a bribe from Goldenberg scandal architect Kamlesh Pattni to exonerate the government from wrongdoing in the fictitious compensation for export of gold and precious stones.
GETTING INFORMATION This led to the split that saw Mr Odinga quit to form the National Development Party (NDP).
Kenneth Matiba had also fallen out with his Secretary-General, Martin Shikuku, and the opposition ranks were in disarray.
It is during this period that Mr Wanjigi got to know the likes of opposition maverick James Orengo, Mr Odinga, Mr Joe Donde and late Kanu stalwart Joseph Kamotho, among others.
That he easily infiltrated both the opposition ranks and the government amazed friend and foe.
“For Boinett, he could get raw intelligence easily on what each and every group was doing,” a source familiar with Mr Wanjigi’s earlier dealings said.
BEHAL'S DEATH In the business circles, Mr Wanjigi became a close ally of Sunil Behal, the owner of construction company Krishan Behal and Sons, whose hefty contributions to then-Vice-President George Saitoti’s harambee meetings was widely known.
Mr Behal was also a wheeler-dealer and had emerged as the king of tenderpreneurs, winning various tenders to the extent that Parliament was once told — by Prof Anyang Nyong’o — that he was so powerful that he boasted “he could even sack ministers who were trying to correct his job”.
Mr Behal’s life would however end scandalously in October 2005 when he collapsed and died after taking what police suspected to be heroin.
He had checked into Nairobi Safari Club at Lilian Towers, Nairobi, in the company of a woman at about 1am and moments later, he was dead.
KNOWING BAGMAN After Mr Behal’s death, Mr Wanjigi became the administrator of his multimillion-shilling estate, which then included the 44 Muthaiga property — where he now lives and which he has turned into a mini-Fort Knox or something resembling the 2002 American film thriller Panic Room.
This fact emerged in a 2005 civil suit at a Milimani court where he filed an affidavit as the “joint administrator” of Sunil Behal’s estate.
It was while at Ukulima Plaza that Mr Wanjigi was also introduced to another Mr Bagman, Nairobi Provincial Commissioner Fred Waiganjo — the man credited by Cyrus Jirongo as having introduced him into big business.
Mr Jirongo was the chairman of the notorious Youth for Kanu 92, an outfit that campaigned for President Daniel arap Moi during the first multi-party election following the repeal of Section 2(a) of the then-Constitution.
TENDERS Multiple sources say so close were Mr Waiganjo and Mr Wanjigi that, when the former PC died, he helped the family to secure administration of the multimillion-shilling empire.
It was however through his dalliance with players in the intelligence network that Mr Wanjigi became an agent of various contractors looking for tenders in the security sector.
Evidence in our possession indicates that his company, Tyl Limited, cut deals running into hundreds of millions of shillings.
As a result, his name would occasionally pop up in Parliamentary documents pertaining to scandals — including the multibillion-shilling Anglo Leasing scam.
At Ukulima Plaza, an insider in the Wanjigi network said, the US development and IT consultant, Dr Merlyn Kettering, had hired a private office for his company Dynatech International.
Dr Kettering was a tenderpreneur par excellence, who had been involved in the Sh250 million computerisation of the Kenya Airports Authority in the 1990s.
Almost on a daily basis, he would visit Mr Wanjigi’s office; some people thought he worked there.
Dynatech had been registered by the Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca — the one at the center of the Panama Papers scandal last year and which helped the super-rich hide their wealth in secret offshore accounts.
ANGLO-LEASING SCANDAL Besides Dr Kettering, the other director of the company was Rashmikant Kamani — at least between May 25, 1993 and January 1, 1996.
The fall of Kanu in 2002 saw various Moi-era power-brokers exit the scene and Mr Wanjigi was lucky to have his uncle Joseph Magari take the powerful position of Finance permanent secretary.
It was during this period that Mr Magari signed a multibillion-shilling contract for Anglo Leasing to purchase, supply and install a passport issuance system in the Home Affairs Ministry.
He would later be charged with corruption and abuse of office together with four others.
ABSOLVED OF CORRUPTION
He was however set free after then-Finance Minister David Mwiraria and Attorney-General Amos Wako told the court that they approved the contract because they believed it was a noble project.
What we now know is that Dr Kettering was a permanent feature at The Treasury, where he attended planning meetings for various security projects.
It was only after news of the Anglo Leasing scandal broke that Dr Kettering fled the country as questions were raised on the Sh4 billion CID laboratories scandal.
The man who blew the whistle was John Githongo, on May 14, 2004, when he alerted President Mwai Kibaki that the construction of a forensic lab for the CID was also a corruption scandal.
MWIRARIA ACCUSED The entire Anglo Leasing scandal centered on 18 security contracts, including a secure passport equipment system and a forensic science laboratory that were never supplied although hundreds of millions of shillings were paid.
It was the scandal that made Githongo, then permanent secretary for Ethics, flee to Europe after implicating senior Cabinet ministers in the Kibaki administration.
The minister later denied in Parliament ever having warned Mr Githongo that he would be killed by Mr Wanjigi, who kept a low profile as the scandal raged.
TELECOMMUNICATION But even with the low profile, Mr Wanjigi was adversely mentioned by the Public Accounts Committee in Parliament in the Sh7.6 billion passport and forensic lab scandals that also involved Deepak Kamani, who had by then fled the country.
While his passport, number A796193, had earlier been confiscated, a Nairobi court on May 12, 2006 ordered the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission to return it to him.
Mr Wanjigi had also been involved in the multimillion-shilling telecommunication business.
On April 2003, the now-defunct Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK) allowed Mr Wanjigi’s Kwacha Group to install and operate VSAT (very small aperture terminal) for data service such as internet and e-mail.
He would later sue and win a case against a local newspaper, which suggested that the system he had installed was meant to bypass the Telkom system, allowing him to rake in millions of shillings.
Mr Githongo, a man of rare integrity, in 2005 explained that Anglo Leasing was not one deal: It was a method of dishonest contracting in which the taxpayer either got nothing for his money or paid more than he should, and that the actor in this trade existed since independence and merely inherited governments.