Frank Obegi and his friends were at times flush with cash, but mostly flat broke

Frank Obegi, Fred Obare, Moses Nyachae and Elijah Omeka

From left: Frank Obegi, Fred Obare, Moses Nyachae and Elijah Omeka. The bodies of the four men from Kasarani in Nairobi  were found in three different counties two weeks ago.

Photo credit: Pool | Nation Media Group

As friends and relatives filed past the casket bearing the body of Frankline Obegi at his parents’ humble abode in Bogwendo village, Nyamira County on Tuesday, those who had known him as a high-flying social media influencer must have found it hard to believe that his story had ended so tragically. 

Besides the modest atmosphere of his parents’ rural home, a majority of the village folk the Daily Nation spoke to knew him as an ordinary young man from a poor family, with his relatives pleading with anyone who knew the whereabouts of his “money” to hand it over.

“I want the government to provide evidence that my son had a lot of money. I will forever be troubled if they do not do that,” said Mr  Evans Mose.

“Our son was a good man who was even struggling in his education. He deferred his university classes for a year for lack of money,” an uncle said.

Considered a Twitter bigwig due to his huge following on social media before his mutilated body and those of his three friends were found in Lari Forest, Kiambu County, the stars seemed to have aligned for Obegi and the young man was poised for big money and influence.

Until everything shut down all of a sudden.

Despite his huge social media following and claims of life on the fast lane, to residents of Bogwendo village, Obegi was just another young man who had been sent to university in the hope that he would one someday change the fortunes of his poor family.

Sadly, that was not to be. Not only did the 26-year-old not graduate from university, his life was cut short by unknown people who gouged out his eyes and chopped off his genitals.

It was a bitter end that saw many of his friends and relatives break down in tears at the funeral. Obegi’s brother, Lyetton, told the Nation that they just wanted to get over with the whole ordeal.

“We just want to lay him to rest so that the stories on the internet and the mainstream media stop,” he told us when we visited his home. “Anybody can get a few shillings and buy stuff then post photos on social media. It doesn’t mean that they are rich,” he said.

What still baffles many is how Obegi rose from such a humble background to become a social media star who could splurge tens of thousands of shillings on drinks in a single night.

Even in death, Obegi has become the face of the ‘Kasarani Four’, as the group comprising himself, Elijah Omeka, Fred Obare and Moses Nyachae, whose bodies were found in three different counties, has been christened. Obegi, who was the youngest of the four, joined the group by chance during the early days of the Covid- 19 pandemic, when all learning institutions were shut down.  Before the pandemic, Obegi was just another Information Technology student at Multi Media University who was struggling to pay school fees.

Frankline Obegi

Friends and relatives gather at the family home of Frank Obegi in Bogwendo village, Nyamira County, on Friday last week.

Photo credit: Ondari ogega | Nation Media Group

He was also an avid Twitter user who gained notoriety and a huge following for angering Kenyans with his plagiarised tweets, including one lifted from former United States President Donald Trump’s Twitter handle. Livid Kenyans on Twitter – or KOT, as the amorphous group of social media users refer to themselves – demanded Obegi’s arrest through the hashtags #JailObegi and #Arrest Obegi.

“Obegi will one day steal his own identity if we don’t stop him, so please save us and jail Obegi,” one Twitter user joked at the height of Obegi’s Twitter notoriety in 2016. It was not until mid-2020 that Obegi started appearing in Kasarani, where he made friends first with Obare and Nyachae and later with Omeka. By that time, all education institutions and entertainment joints had been shut due to Covid-19.

“Obegi joined the crew by chance after he started turning up for drinking sessions,” a friend of the four men who were murdered told us. The sessions were not fancy at all. The group mainly enjoyed their drinks inside cars. It all began at a spot in Seasons, Kasarani, and at Clayworks off Thika Road. Sometimes, they enjoyed the drinks in Roysambu, which is also in Kasarani Sub-county.  Alcohol, mostly gin and various mixers, would be bought by the bottle from nearby wines and spirits shops and drunk using plastic tumblers. Sometimes girls, a majority of whom also hailed from Nyamira, would be invited to the parties.

Omeka, who had by then moved from Kasarani to Kamakis on the Eastern Bypass, would join them once in a while, as he would also hang out with another set of “business friends”.

These friends included Joseph Njau Ngendo, the politician whose body was found dumped alongside those of Obegi and Obare in Lari on June 19. 

Njau was at that time battling a court case after being arrested while trafficking five kilos of cocaine the year before.  He was reportedly trying to maintain a low profile as he sought an alternative source of income.

According to police records, the politician was part of a larger heroin distribution network in Nairobi that procured narcotics from a Nigerian who was based in Kampala, Uganda.

“Njau is a frequent traveller to Uganda. He has a pattern of leaving Kenya through the Busia border and coming back to Kenya through the Malaba border. He does this to evade detection,” said one police report that the Nation has seen.

Elijah Obuong, Brian Oduor, Benjamin Imbai and Jack Onyango, who went missing on April 19, 2021.

Photo credit: Pool

It was not only Omeka who had a separate group of friends dabbling in suspicious activities. Obare too was known to hang out with Jack Anyango, Omeka Obuong, Benjamin Imbai and Brian Oduor, the four men who were kidnapped as they left a restaurant in Kitengela  and murdered last April. It is not known what sort of business Obare was doing with the Kitengela Four, whose disappearance and murders mirror that of the Kasarani Four.

“They [the Kitengela Four] knew all the boys in the group from Kasarani but they were closer to Fred [Obare],” a friend who used to join them for drinks told the Nation.

“In fact, Fred was drinking with them [the Kitengela Four] that morning in Kasarani, before they left for Kitengela where they were kidnapped,” said the friend.

It is in these circumstances that Obegi became a member of a gang that police say was involved in online fraud linked to cryptocurrency and other crimes.

As rightly claimed by their families, the four started out as online writers, like many other Kenyatta University (KU) students who lived in Kahawa Wendani, just across the road from KU’s main campus. Obare reportedly did online writing up to the day he died and mainly whenever he did not have money.

Online writing was however a fall-back plan or a cover, as police have linked the group to an international credit card fraud syndicate that has sucked in so many Kenyan university students that Kasarani and Kahawa Wendani have now been listed as hotspots by law enforcement agencies.

In fact, Obegi, Obare and Nyachae had been arrested on several occasions – including a week before their disappearance – by officers from Kasarani Police Station but were never charged.

“We have contributed money countless times to get these boys out of police trouble, especially Obare and Obegi,” said a friend.

Each year, about 115 million debit and credit cards are stolen in developed countries and posted on the dark web, according to Gemini Advisory, a cybersecurity firm that tracks underground marketplaces and forums.

Experts say the internet is made up of three tiers; the surface web, which is accessible to anyone with data, a communications device and can access a browser such as Google; the deep web, which contains password-protected sites like Facebook or Twitter; and the dark web, which requires special browsers such as Tor, Freenet, Subgraph and Waterfox.

The difference between the dark web and normal browsers is that users are able to hide their identities. Every day millions of stolen credit cards, cryptocurrency accounts, hacked Gmail and Twitter accounts, purchasable malware and even drugs are sold on the dark web.

International credit card scamming syndicates have identified Kenya as a good location to launder their stolen funds due to its robust financial technology sector, powered by Mpesa. Those who know the Kasarani Four say they were part of local gangs that helped international credit card scamming syndicates to launder their cash. Dozens of other university students living especially in Kahawa Wendani finance their lavish lifestyles this way.

In most cases, money stolen from credit cards in countries such as the US is deposited into accounts held by the Kenyan university students who have a close-knit circle that is difficult to penetrate. The fraudsters then send a fake invoice to their Kenyan counterparts for some fictitious service. After receiving the invoice, the Kenyan associates wire the money indicated on the invoice to some other bank account owned by the fraudsters and earn a commission.

Those who have been in the business long enough and have IT skills do the hacking themselves by purchasing details of stolen credit cards on the dark web or on Telegram. The hacked credit cards are then used to order expensive food at hotels, alcoholic drinks, electronic gadgets and even cars.

This is done quickly lest the owners abroad realise their cards have been hacked and ask their banks to block them. This is perhaps why those who came across Omeka, Obegi, Obare and Nyachae think that they were living large.

In reality, however, the four friends did not have money to fund the kind of lavish lifestyle they are accused of living. This is because every time they made a hit, they had to spend the money quickly before it got blocked.

It was a seesaw. One day they would be spending tens of thousands in a nightclub with beautiful women and the next they would be drinking cheap beer and pleading with their parents upcountry to send some bananas or maize as they did not have money for food.

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