Puzzle of foreigners who wired Sh500 million to Kenyan women

Belgian Marc De Mesel and his girlfriend. Asset Recovery Agency has dropped a Sh113 million 'dirty cash' case against a woman who also received funds from  Mr De Mesel.

Photo credit: Pool I Nation Media Group

State investigators are burning the midnight oil trying to unravel a complex international money laundering scheme involving foreigners who have wired close to half a billion shillings to five Kenyan women within one year.

The money is mostly from Belgium and Mauritius in US dollars and Euro currencies, documents filed in court by the Asset Recovery Agency (ARA) indicates.

The agency has since filed several cash-freeze suits against the women and has also obtained temporary preservation orders stopping them from withdrawing the funds, which the women claim to be gifts and loans. ARA is conducting investigations with an aim to establish the source of the money.

The women defending the said gifts and loans include Felista Nyamathira Njoroge, Tabby Wambuku Kago, Jane Wangui Kago, Serah Wambui and Isabel Nyaguthii Wanjohi. Ms Wambuku is sister of Ms Wangui.

The first four received their millions of shillings from Mr Marc De Mesel, a Belgian YouTube crypto personality, on different dates between August last year and April 2022.

Another beneficiary of funds from the Belgium national is Mr Timothy Waigwa, a 22-year-old student at Kirinyaga University who received Sh47 million as a gift.

Investigators claim that the foreigner was in Kenya in 2017 and was living along Thika Road Nairobi before escaping to Tanzania in 2021 after learning he was on the police radar. He later engaged in a spree of wiring money to the women’s bank accounts, making them multi-millionaires.

Ms Wambuku received Sh108 million, Ms Njoroge Sh109 million, Ms Wangui Sh49 million and Ms Wambui Sh100 million. The women claimed to be in romantic relationships with the Belgium millionaire.

While defending the money, Ms Njoroge said ARA was invading her privacy since the money was gift from her lover (the Belgiun national), whom she said had also made her pregnant. She also said she acquired the money genuinely through her relationship and businesses.

Ms Wangui on her part had indicated that the Sh49 million “gift” was meant to boost her salon and clothes business in Ruiru, Kiambu county.

She told the ARA that she opened the Euro account in July 2021 for purposes of receiving the funds from De Messel.

When asked by the agency how she came to know the Belgian, Ms Wangui revealed that the man was a boyfriend of her sister and had resided with her in Ruiru before acquiring an apartment at Garden City on Thika Road. He later flew out of the country and has been sending money to them, she said.

ARA suspects the money sent to all the recipients are proceeds of an organized money laundering syndicate since the recipients are young women with no known history of big business or employment that could generate such revenue.

For instance, ARA says Ms Wambuku in her bank account opening documents had indicated as self-employed but the transaction in the account did not reveal or depict any other transaction apart from what it received from De Mesel Marc.

“Preliminary investigations have established Ms Wambuku opened the suspect account for the sole purpose of receiving the said funds which the sender indicated as gift from him,” court papers indicate.

All the monies were wired in the same manner and in tranches through various bank accounts held at Stanbic bank, Equity and Cooperative, according to the agency.

Ms Wanjohi on her part received Sh115 million from Platcorp Holdings Ltd, a company registered in Mauritius. The money was an unsecured loan, she told investigators.

The purpose of the money deposited into her account on April 13, 2022 was not disclosed and the agency intercepted it as Ms Wanjohi was allegedly about to wire it to South Africa through swift transfer.

ARA claims that Ms Wanjohi works at Platinum Credit Limited, a microfinance bank in Kenya. The agency alleges that Ms Wanjohi was being used by fraudsters as a conduit for money laundering.

No reasonable explanation was given as to why she was receiving the funds and why she wanted to transfer the money to South Africa.

When pressed to explain, Ms Wanjohi allegedly produced an agreement with Platcorp Holdings ltd claiming it was an unsecured loan.

Doubting the explanation, ARA said Platcorps Holdings Limited is also micro-finance lender with no capacity to lend an individual Sh115 million without security.

ARA swung into action after receiving information into suspected cases of money laundering schemes and proceeds of crime involving multiple money transactions conducting through the bank accounts of the recipients in foreign currencies.

In March 2022, a new US report tracking the global money-laundering hotspots indicated that Kenya appears to have taken a step back in the fight against financial crimes after the government last year lifted the threshold of reporting cash transactions above Sh1 million.

Before 2021, the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) required commercial banks to record and report all transactions above Sh1 million (approximately $10,000).

However, in October 2021, President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered the lifting of the reporting requirement. He noted that a higher cash transaction limit “will facilitate easy transactions for micro, small and medium enterprises and help the economy respond to Covid shocks”.

The US State Department said in its annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) released this week that Kenya has no individual reporting requirement in place for large cash transactions, although banks must report to the Financial Reporting Centre (FRC).