DCI raid ‘Ruto office’ amid Kinoti, Chebukati row over Venezuelans

detective

A detective from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations arrives at Transnational Plaza, Nairobi County, on July 24, 2022.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

A war of words between the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations escalated yesterday with the publication, by the latter, of a lengthy statement that accused the elections agency of misrepresenting facts, lying and laxity in the management of this year’s General Election.

The statement by DCI boss George Kinoti was the latest in a spate of exchanges between the two agencies following the arrest and detention on Thursday of three foreigners, who were found with election kits identification stickers in their luggage soon after arriving in the country.

It was followed hours later by an inspection by senior police officers of an office in the city centre associated with Deputy President William Ruto, where a Nation team found workers moving electronic and internet server cabinets late in the afternoon. A worker at the site said they had been instructed to relocate the office but refused to say to where.

The IEBC had on Thursday evening protested the arrest of the three Venezuelans at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport saying in a statement by chairman Wafula Chebukati that police were unduly harassing the foreigners while executing a contract by the elections agency.

Mr Chebukati added in the late night statement that the three were employees of Smartmatic International BV, the company contracted to provide election technology for next month’s elections.

‘A suitable platform’

But Mr Kinoti disputed Mr Chebukati’s claims yesterday, saying, the Venezuelans were neither IEBC nor Smartmatic staff, but had been in the country at the invitation of a Kenyan named Abdullahi Abdi Mohamed, the chief executive officer of Nairobi-based technology startup Seamless Technologies.

The Nation could not establish yesterday what role Mr Mohamed’s company is playing in this year’s election. The small firm, which was established in 2010 according to its website, provides IT solutions to small and medium enterprises from its location at the House of Innovation and Technology (iHiT) along Dennis Pritt Road in the city.

House of Innovation and Technology, says it “creates a suitable platform for Kenyan innovative idea owners, programmers, knowledge-based companies, start-ups and creative industries to benefit from the technologies acquired from Iranian companies over the years”.

It adds: “The center’s ultimate goal is to further strengthen the bilateral relations between Iran and Kenya.”

It is important to note that, while awarding Smartmatic the tender to provide technology solutions for the polls last November, IEBC did not mention involvement of a local firm in the upcoming General Election.

The Nation could not find the list of directors or the ownership structure of Seamless Technologies Limited on the government’s business registry as its records were not available when we searched for them yesterday. Its CEO, Mr Abdi, graduated from Periyar University in India with a degree in computer science in 2009. He has previously worked at Tospay Limited and was a consultant for the European Union Election Observation Mission during the 2017 election, his LinkedIn profile states.

Mr Kinoti yesterday turned the heat on Mr Chebukati, whom he said was insincere in claiming aggravation by police officers stationed at JKIA.

He said the detained foreigners were carrying sensitive election materials as undeclared cargo, and that there could be several poll-related materials that have made their way into the country undetected in the same manner, arguing this could seriously dent the credibility of the elections.

The IEBC is accused of not involving the state’s security machinery in its preparations for the polls, and this lack of communication between the two agencies was shockingly evident on the morning of June 7 this year, when the police command only became aware of the first arrival of ballot papers at JKIA after IEBC officials went to receive them.

Shocked

Yesterday Mr Kinoti raised the same issues with Mr Chebukati, noting: “Officers were shocked how a foreigner travelled all the way from Venezuela to Panama to Turkey and Nairobi on a very sensitive and high-level contract supposedly by IEBC had nobody waiting for him, and in particular to receive the sensitive confidential materials, which were supposed to be in secure custody after confirmation and reception by the procuring entity.”

Mr Kinoti also claimed that two of the three Venezuelans detained by the police were travelling on expired passports, and that their credibility was therefore questionable.

Apart from Mr Jose Gregorio Carmago who was arrested on Thursday afternoon with 17 rolls of election stickers that are supposed to be used for labelling Kiems kits, the DCI said that the two other Venezuelans had previously jetted into the country with similar stickers.

Joel Gustavo Rodriguez arrived in the country on July 15 with nine rolls of the same type of stickers while Salvador Javier Suarez came with eight rolls on the same day.

Like the stickers that were brought by Carmago, the 17 shipped in by Rodriguez and Suarez were not supposed to be delivered to IEBC but to a house on Riverside Drive, Nairobi.

On being questioned, Carmago, who was first to be arrested, told police that the stickers were supposed to be picked by one Paul Wachanga Mugo and a man identified only as Javien. While the Nation was unable to establish the full identities of Javien or whether Mr Mugo works for the IEBC, we established that in 2017, opposition chief Raila Odinga claimed that a Paul Mugo and Boniface Wamae used Mr Chebukati’s password to access IEBC servers and alter the election result.

“To date all the 17 rolls previously smuggled into the country remain unaccounted for unless Mr Chebukati confirms to Kenyans of their existence since he has not complained about them,” Mr Kinoti said.

Nation understands that police were also investigating why a local technology provider has been operating its servers from a private office owned by Deputy President William Ruto in Nairobi’s central business district.

This is after police at the office located on the ninth floor of Transnational Plaza recovered two servers belonging to Lanstar Technologies.

A poster in the office’s wall showed that it was being used by Amaco Insurance for its internal investigations.

Nairobi Regional Police Commander James Mugera told journalists that they received a tip off that some servers were being moved to an unknown location.

“That was information we found to be very sensitive and we decided to come and establish what it is. We have since established that the owners of the servers were moving them to Thika because that place is being renovated,” Mr Mugera told journalists.

“The owner is telling us he uses them to host 18 Sacco’s mobile banking data but this is information that will be verified by investigators. It’s not a criminal offence to move servers but we act on any tip we receive. We came to establish what it is that they do; if we’re satisfied, fine, but for now it’s a matter under investigation,” Mr Mugera said and denied knowledge on whether the office belongs to DP Ruto.

On its website, the technology firm whose head office is located in Westlands says its partners range from Saccos to banks, real estate agencies to telecommunication companies.

Politically instigated

Other tenants said the previous occupants of the building started vacating the premises on Saturday night to a new location with sources claiming that the items were being transferred to Amaco Insurance head office on Mombasa road.

At the same time, Deputy President William Ruto and his Kenya Kwanza allies have taken on Mr Kinoti, asking him to stop interfering with IEBC.

“Kinoti should stop this nonsense; he should save his time for other things, leave matters relating to election to IEBC,” the DP said at Kapkatet stadium in Kericho County yesterday.

He added that the DCI was playing politics, pushing politically instigated cases against business people associated with Kenya Kwanza.

“Many of my friends have suffered for standing with me with Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and the police dispatched to harass them…but I want to assure everyone that we shall stand with them and we shall win this election,” he said.

Cases of interference

 Amani National Congress party leader Musalia Mudavadi revealed that a commission will be formed to look into cases of interference with the election process in the country, should the Kenya Kwanza coalition win the presidency.

“We shall institute an inquiry on the state officers interfering with election process and undermining IEBC,” Mr Mudavadi said.

The Kenya Kwanza boss’s running mate, Rigathi Gachagua, said: “Police and administrators should know that the people pushing them to do the wrong things ahead of the election will go home with President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga after the election.”

 Ford Kenya’s Moses Mr Wetang’ula told President Kenyatta to stop using the police and state machinery to intimidate IEBC officials.

 “We stand here to reassure IEBC Chairman Mr Wafula Chebukati and his team that we have faith in you to deliver credible, free and fair polls,” he said.

Additional reporting by Mary Wambui and Vitalis Kimutai

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