On the evening of June 16, 2017, businessman John Kimama was glued to the TV screen when news of a man on the run for stealing petroleum from Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) was broadcast on NTV.
So cunning was the culprit, the story said, that he had rented a house a few metres from a KPC underground pipeline in Koru, Kisumu, drilled an underground hole from his house to the pipeline and started redirecting diesel to an illegal storage tank in his premises.
The suspect also operated a fuel station, where he sold the stolen diesel.
Mr Kimama recalls how fascinated he was with the story and wondered how sharp the suspect was. Little did he know that he would later be suspected to be that culprit.
How? Mr Kimama had lost his national identity card sometime in 2014. He reported the loss at the Buruburu Police Station on February 2, 2014.
But it appears the damage had been done. Yet more damage was coming, as he later found out.
His lost ID was used by the diesel-stealing suspect to enter into a lease agreement for the land where fuel was siphoned and to open an account with Transnational Bank.
That marked the beginning of the end of his hitherto “perfect” life.
Three weeks later, on July 7, 2017, detectives pounced on Mr Kimama at a friend’s office in Nairobi. He had just booked a bus ticket for a business trip to Mombasa when he was accosted by police officers and taken into custody at the Central Police Station in Nairobi.
On the night he was arrested, Mr Kimama recalled, he was relocated to the Muthangari Police Station. The next day, in the wee hours of the morning, he was ferried to the Ahero Police Station and later to the Kisumu Police Station.
It is at the Kisumu Police Station that Mr Kimama was informed of his charges — operating an illegal petroleum business. He was shown documents, including a lease agreement that he had no knowledge of and a Transnational Bank cheque. All these were confiscated at the scene of crime.
He recalled being asked by the police to append his signature 30 times on a piece of paper and on the cheque. And, it turned out, he was a stranger to the petroleum dealings and had no knowledge of a land lease agreement.
Mr Kimama was arraigned on July 17, 2017 on charges of operating a business storing petroleum products without a valid licence from the Energy Regulatory Commission (now the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority). He denied the charges and was released on a bond of Sh100,000.
The police also seized his genuine cheque books, his ID and ATM cards. These were to be used as evidence in the criminal case. But because it was an electioneering period, he successfully convinced the court that he needed his ID to exercise his right to vote.
A witness, Grace Akinyi Ajuoga, told the court that around 6.30am one day, she was “awoken by the smell of petroleum” and suspected that the nearby petrol station’s underground tanks on land leased to “John Kimama” had overflown and the contents had spilled on the land.
It was based on this statement that detectives had arrested and charged the real John Kimama. On further investigations, police found out that someone else had obtained Mr Kimama’s ID and used it to execute the unlawful dealings.
Stressed and traumatised
Upon this discovery, charges against Mr Kimama were withdrawn. He was discharged on November 15, 2017. But the damage had already been done.
As a result of his confinement, Mr Kimama had developed health complications. He was stressed and traumatised. His travel documents have also been blacklisted, meaning he can no longer travel beyond Kenya’s borders.
And even though the charges against him were withdrawn, Mr Kimama’s ID was used to register Ress Energy Kenya Ltd, the company that was selling illegal petroleum products.
He also risks being listed by Credit Reference Bureaus for defaulting on a Sh2.5 million loan that the culprits took from Transnational Bank.
“Furthermore, my wife took off when the criminal case commenced. She told me that she couldn’t continue living with a criminal,” he told the Nation.
“I had used more than Sh700,000 in pursuing this case, But, worse, my family disintegrated,” a teary Mr Kimama said.
“When the tempest billowed, I lost the grip of my family.”
When the criminal charges were dropped, he sued the State for causing him emotional torture, damaging his image and for accrued general loss.
Lost civil case
On June 8 this year, exactly four years after his tribulations began, Mr Kimama lost the civil case against the State, with the court ruling that he had not presented enough proof.
“In the upshot, the plaintiff has failed to prove his case against the defendants and the suit is dismissed with cost to the defendants,” Principal Magistrate Onzere EM ruled.
The four-year journey that has resulted in “immense” loneliness, inconvenience and deteriorated health cannot be compensated for whatsoever, he said, even as he hopes to appeal the court’s decision.
“I was innocently accused because my lost ID landed in the wrong hands. I urge everyone not to take the loss of identification documents for granted. Always report and keep copies of the abstract for it can be used to commit crimes.”