Mystery as man arrested with Sh238 million cash at airport

Thursday, February 17th, 2022 00:00 | By
Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA)

A man allegedly linked to Deputy President William Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) was yesterday arrested at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport with $2 million (Sh238 million) in cash.

Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) Customs officers based at the airport arrested Paul Kemboi, who is said to be a politician eyeing the Chesumei constituency seat in Nandi County, soon after he landed in the country from Bujumbura, Burundi.

But Ruto’s office dissociated itself from the man, saying neither the DP nor UDA had anything to do with him.

“We have no idea about the man. After all, there are so many candidates eyeing various seats across the country whom the DP does not know at all,” a spokesman in Ruto’s office, Emmanuel Tallam, told People Daily.

Three cities

UDA officials also denied knowledge of the man. “He may have declared interest in the parliamentary seat, but is yet to submit his application to the party. We don’t have his details,” Wanjohi Githae, the UDA spokesman, said.

The man is said to have left the country on February 15 for Somalia, before flying  to Uganda and later to Bujumbura, and then jetting back to Nairobi on the same day evening with the money.

The money is said to have been wired from Dubai and was supposed to be collected in Kigali, Rwanda. However, the Rwandan intelligence community got wind and the events led to President Paul Kagame visiting Nairobi to brief President Uhuru Kenyatta. 

A former Cabinet Secretary facing charges in court is said to have been the contact person with Kemboi and he is expected to shed more light on the stash.

Those in the know say the flight to Somalia was a decoy as the money had been moved to Burundi after the movers found it difficult pushing it to Kigali.

Kemboi, who was released yesterday morning on condition he returns to the airport this morning with full details about the owner of the money, is reported to have told detectives that the “money belonged to a senior politician”.

“We are waiting for the man to give us full details about the senior politician he claims to have sent him to collect the money,” a senior detective told People Daily yesterday.

KRA officials said the money was packed as a parcel and the suspect had made a wrongful declaration on the intended destination, before it was flagged as a possible money laundering transaction.

Documents in his possession indicated the parcel had been sent from Banque de Credit de Bujumbura (BCB) to a recipient identified as Brinks Global Services, Kenya.

After clearance by the Customs Unit at the airport, Kemboi presented the money at the Swissport cargo shed with different export documents for shipment to Global Services, UK.

“The documents produced to support the export request were different from those produced on entry into the country,” KRA said.

Sources at the airport revealed that the man had at first told detectives that the money was proceeds of sale of his maize before changing tune to claim he had won it in a lottery.

Commissioner Customs and Border Control Lillian Nyawanda said after noting the inconsistencies, they decided to seek indulgence of the Asset Recovery Agency (ARA) detectives to assist in investigating the matter as a possible money-laundering attempt.

“KRA encourages passengers to correctly declare all cargo or items at the ports of entry and exit as required under the provisions of the Second and Third Schedules of the EAC Customs Management Act, 2004,” Nyawanda said.

Piece together

The incident comes weeks after ARA obtained orders to take custody of more than Sh100 million seized from a foreigner at the airport.

The High Court ordered the foreigner not to leave the country until investigations are complete. Khalid Jameel Said Ahmaad, 55, who was travelling on a Bahrain passport, had been in the county for about two weeks. He was detained on January 28 at JKIA as he planned to fly out of the country.

Detectives are now trying to piece together information on how he had entered the country with huge sums of money undetected. Although widely travelled across the world, this was his first visit to Kenya.

Khalid had attempted in vain to deposit the money at Diamond Trust Bank (DTB) and Dubai Islamic Bank (DIB) since he did not provide sufficient documents to enable him to open an account.

“The two banks filed a suspicious activity by a foreigner who sought to bank $1 million (about Sh113 million),” an investigator told People Daily.

Afterwards, the man flew to Mombasa where he attempted to deposit the money in a DTB Bank, Nyali branch account, held by a Pakistan community charity organisation but was again turned down.

He was arrested when he tried to fly out of the country to Bahrain via Cairo. He had already used about $23,000 (about Sh2.9 million) from the sum he had failed to deposit.

According to the law, one can bring into the country up to Sh500, 000 but foreign currency exceeding $10,000 (Sh1 million) must be declared.

Reports say Kenya acts as a strategic gateway between East and Central Africa and Europe, the Middle East, and Asia and this makes it highly susceptible as a transit point for illicit trade and finance.

As a result, the country needs to have effective and adequate anti-money laundering laws in place, especially because illicit cash has in the past been used to finance terrorism activities.

The US government recently listed Kenya as a “major money laundering jurisdiction,” citing numerous domestic and foreign criminal activities and highlighting that money laundering takes place in the formal and informal sectors.

However, after updating its anti-money laundering framework, Kenya was removed from the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) list of non-cooperative countries and territories.

In the past, some of Ruto allies have been suspected of being involved in money laundering. A Turkish national who was deported from Kenya in July last year was suspected to be involved in illicit money activities.

Laundering, according to the authorities, seeks to hide the source of money, believed to have been obtained illegally, by passing it through legitimate channels including commercial transactions and investment.

According to the Financial Reporting Centre, such schemes aim to hide and legalise the funds without grabbing the attention of legal authorities and also making sure all connections to criminal activity is removed.

Finally, the “cleaned” money returns to the launderer in an indirect way, and is then used for legitimate purposes. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) about Sh200 trillion is laundered globally every year.

On January 5, Kapsaret MP Oscar Sudi and two foreigners were briefly detained at the Wilson Airport after officials insisted inspecting their luggage through a scanner.

Sudi was accompanied by controversial Tanzania politician and former minister for Natural Resources Lazarus Nyalandu, and a British businessman and politician Michael Spencer.

Turkish saga

A passenger manifest indicated the three had left Eldoret for Nairobi on January 5 aboard a Pilatus PC-12 private jet.

The plane had flown from Nairobi to Eldoret on January 2 and arrived at the airport at about 4pm.

Other sources, however, said the three had met a senior government official for some private business.

Once in Nairobi, however, it was said that Sudi refused to follow airport guidelines insisting that his entourage passes through the VIP lounge instead of using the domestic arrivals section like other passengers.

The incident was the second after Sudi was in August last year engaged in an almost similar fracas at the same airport when the Turkish businessman Harun Aydin was arrested and deported over money-laundering links and illegal movement into and out of Kenya.

Aydin, who was traveling from Uganda at that time, was part of DP Ruto’s entourage that was a few days earlier supposed to fly to Entebbe only for the DP to be stopped from boarding a plane at Wilson Airport.

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