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Paul Gicheru, the Kenyan lawyer who was facing charges of witness tampering at the International Criminal Court (ICC), spent his last hours drinking wine at his Karen home in Nairobi before his wife found him unresponsive on Monday night.
This is the only thing that the police, his family and lawyer agree on about how the lawyer spent his last moments.
Gicheru was awaiting the ICC verdict in a few weeks on whether he was guilty of bribing witnesses that were to testify in the collapsed trial of President William Ruto.
Motionless on a sofa
Medics from the Karen Hospital who rushed to his house at 7 pm on Monday after receiving a distress call from a neighbour found the lawyer motionless on a sofa upstairs.
They moved him to the floor where they unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate him.
He was 52, did not have any serious ailments and rarely left his house in the upscale Northwood Villas on Miotoni Lane in Karen, where the monthly rent is a minimum of Sh400,000.
He moved to the neighbourhood five years ago.
Yet in the wake of his mysterious death, it is the inconsistency between what the police, his family and his lawyer are saying that is raising questions as to what exactly happened to Gicheru, whom the ICC says played a crucial role in making the case against Dr Ruto collapse.
An initial signal circulated within police lines, which the Nation has seen, says that it’s Gicheru’s 20-year-old son, Allan, who, on finding his father unconscious, told his mother Ruth Nyambura that Gicheru “had taken something and upon checking on him upstairs, he was found unconscious”.
“The medics further found the son lying on a bed with froth oozing out of his mouth. They offered him first aid and rushed him to the Karen Hospital,” said the report filed at the Karen Police Station under OB number 54/26/09/22.
A press release issued yesterday morning by the National Police Service on the matter, however, agreed on most of the earlier explanations filed at the Lang’ata Police Station, apart from how Gicheru was discovered unconscious.
According to the press release, the lawyer spent the whole of Monday afternoon at his home hosting his father-in-law and his son, who is now recuperating at the Karen Hospital.
“It emerged at one point at about 3.30 pm that the father-in-law left the premises with the deceased’s driver towards Ngara as the deceased excused himself to go to his bedroom,” said the police.
“After some time, the wife was concerned about his absence and followed him upstairs only to find him lying on the bed unconscious,” the police report read.
What is creating confusion is how the police can give two different explanations about who between Gicheru’s wife and son discovered him unconscious.
While speaking to Citizen TV on Tuesday night, Gicheru’s mother Josephine Wambui, insisted that her son was in very good health.
“It’s not easy for someone to just drop dead like that when he was not even sick. I spoke to him last Friday and he told me he was doing okay,” she said.
A few hours before Ms Wambui appeared on TV, Senior Counsel John Khaminwa, who was Gicheru’s friend, claimed that his client’s behaviour was a bit unusual in his last days.
“It appears as if Paul Gicheru was not himself, he was in a stressful condition. What I’m reading on social media that he probably ate some food and so on, doesn’t appear to be so,” he told journalists who had camped at the lawyer’s gate.
A post-mortem examination that was supposed to be conducted yesterday to provide some answers on the cause of death was postponed at the request of his parents who were yet to travel from Eldoret.
Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition leader Raila Odinga yesterday demanded a foreign investigation into the death of lawyer Paul Gicheru who was on trial at the International Criminal Court, saying, the case has international implications.
Mr Odinga said international investigative agencies, including Interpol, should lead the probe in order to allay suspicions of a cover-up in Kenya.
In a statement issued by his Presidential Campaign Secretariat Spokesperson Makau Mutua, Mr Odinga said a thorough and credible investigation is needed to uncover the circumstances of Mr Gicheru’s death and his son’s illness.
“This pattern of mysterious and unexplained deaths, some of them gruesome and macabre, is extremely disturbing,” said Mr Odinga.
“To avoid a cover-up in Kenya, we call upon international investigative agencies, including Interpol, to lead the investigation. This is particularly so because the case has international implications as Mr Gicheru was in the custody of the ICC at the time of his death.”
This came as investigators took away some personal items from the lawyer’s home, including his bed sheets, a glass believed to be the one he was drinking wine from and CCTV camera footage that will be used to reconstruct Gicheru’s last movements and ascertain whether he received any visitors apart from those on record.
His employees, however, told the Nation in confidence that Gicheru was at home with his wife Ruth, son Allan and his father-in-law Wang’ombe Wokabi, plus one of his two househelps known as Dorcas.
According to his employees, their boss spent the whole of Monday in his personal quarters on the upper floor of the five-bedroom house, drinking his favourite white wine.
He only came downstairs at about 4pm to ask for water and then went back up.
“His wife and father-in-law were there, but he spent the day in his bedroom and only came down once,” one of his employees said.
Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until shortly after 7pm when his wife went upstairs to find out if the lawyer was coming down for dinner, only to find him foaming at the mouth.
Then on going into the next bedroom, she found her son unconscious.
An ambulance was immediately called to rush Gicheru and Allan, who is a university student in the United Kingdom, to the hospital.
His wife Ruth, and househelp Dorcas, also hopped into the ambulance to accompany the two to the hospital.
It is Dorcas who came back with the bad news that the lawyer was declared dead at 10pm on Monday. By then, a number of media outlets had already got wind of the news.
Gicheru was in 2015 indicted by the ICC for offences against the administration of justice by corruptly influencing witnesses of the court.
He was among three people accused of bribing and intimidating witnesses supposed to testify against Dr Ruto, who was facing charges of crimes against humanity.
The others were Walter Barasa and Phillip Bett.
Dr Ruto, who had been accused of orchestrating murder, deportation and persecution in the violence that followed the 2007 disputed elections in which nearly 1,200 people were killed, was set free in 2016 by the ICC.
In releasing him, the court ruled that there was insufficient evidence. It declared Dr Ruto’s case a mistrial, but noted that there were “troubling incidences of witness interference and intolerable political meddling”.
However, by suddenly surrendering at The Hague in November 2020, Gicheru, who had a warrant of arrest issued against him five years before, presented a fresh opportunity to pursue international efforts to get justice for the victims of the violence.
In June, after about a year of trial, the ICC ruled that it was convinced that “between April 2013 and January 2014, Mr Gicheru offered various witnesses millions of shillings in cash instalments in exchange for withdrawing as prosecution witnesses in the Ruto case”.
Trial judge Miatta Maria Samba, while confirming that Gicheru had a case to answer, said the chamber would deliberate on the proceedings and, within a reasonable period, pronounce its decision on either conviction or acquittal.
After that ruling, the lawyer, who was in September last year released on a bond on the condition that he would allow the ICC to track his movements and also provide assurance that he would not skip court, returned to Kenya.
Since getting back in the country, Gicheru rarely left his house and even scaled-down operations at his Upper Hill office as he feared for his life, at least according to his relatives and people close to him.
The last time he visited his office was on Thursday last week.
“The boss never visited people and you could not tell who was his client or friend,” one of his drivers told us.
“Since the ICC case, he never had any friends to a level where they visited each other or hanged out together,” said the driver who said Gicheru once mentioned to him that he only wanted to clear his name at The Hague.
As secretive as he was lonely, Gicheru was facing very serious crimes at the ICC.
Prosecutors keen to nail him claimed that he was the head of a witness interference ring that sought and bribed witnesses with money in exchange for their withdrawal and recantation of prior statements in the case against Dr Ruto.
Had he been found guilty, the lawyer would not only have faced five years in prison, but it would have given the ICC a chance to revisit one of the most public cases facing a high-profile personality that failed in its courts.
While dismissing Dr Ruto’s charges in April 2016 the ICC did not declare him innocent, leaving the possibility of a new trial in future.
Long list of witnesses
Gicheru’s death adds to a long list of witnesses in the cases related to the post-poll violence for which President Ruto and his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta were charged, who have disappeared, died mysteriously or were murdered.
“It’s somewhat odd that after the election in Kenya, and before the court issues its judgment, there is this incident. This warrants the ICC stepping up to the plate,” Mr Michael Karnavas, who was Gicheru’s lawyer at the ICC, told the New York Times.
In July, Christopher Koech, a teacher in Kakamega who was linked to Gicheru’s ICC case, was found lying on the roadside next to his motorbike near Shibuli market. He had foam in his mouth and was sweating profusely, raising suspicions of poisoning.
And although Gicheru was not sick, the fact that he was found unresponsive together with his son after drinking wine while in the safety of his home, only adds mystery as to who could have wanted him and Koech dead.
“We’ve been informed that the police visited the home and urged the Inspector-General of the National Police Service to ensure that speedy and thorough investigations are conducted into the cause of his death,” the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) said on Tuesday.
“It is in the public domain that he was facing charges at the ICC. It is also in the public domain that several witnesses in the ICC cases have either disappeared or died. There is, therefore, significant public interest in establishing the cause of his death,” the LSK stated.
Witnesses in the case, who have died mysteriously, included Meshack Yebei, who, in January 2015, was found dead at the Man-Eaters section of the Tsavo National Park after he went missing for about a week. A post-mortem examination showed he was hit on the head with a blunt object.