The Kanjo millionaires: Low-cadre City Hall staff swimming in millions
Remember, remember! The fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot.
While John Milton’s 1626 poem was in honour of Guy Fawkes, a man who attempted a coup in England two decades earlier, his words ring most true for former Nairobi County chief financial officer Jimmy Mutuku Kiamba.
On November 5, 2014, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) started executing a coup on Mr Kiamba’s vast portfolio worth over half a billion shillings, in a bid to recover assets the accountant had acquired after a years-long heist on City Hall’s coffers.
Mr Kiamba is in an exclusive club of millionaires that prove how tall a mountain Nairobi governor Johnson Sakaja has to climb to clean up the cartel-ridden City Hall whose billions largely go to lining individuals’ pockets at the expense of Nairobi residents.
Mr Kiamba and two other individuals – Wilson Nashon Kanani and Michael Auka Ajwang – are among several individuals the EACC believes have pocketed billions of shillings and interfered with plans to better Nairobi County.
At the time EACC started investigating Mr Kiamba, one of his key roles was to ensure the banking of millions collected by City Hall officials in several departments.
And while the money was indeed banked, the accounts it was deposited were not City Hall’s.
When Mr Kiamba joined City Hall’s employ in January 2007 he and his wife Tracy Mbinya Musau were worth Sh1 million – a plot of land in Athi River worth Sh400,000 and a car valued at Sh600,000.
A year later, the couple had built rental flats on the Athi River land and made Sh300,000 from tenants.
Somehow, the only liability they had incurred was a Sh50,000 loan from Cooperative Bank, an indication that the property development was either developed from cash payments or the couple borrowed millions and repaid it all in less than a year.
Either way, it smelled fishy.
Their net worth jumped to Sh401 million by 2013.
An intelligence report shared with the anti-graft agency in 2014 triggered a probe that would not only shock detectives but shoot Mr Kiamba into an A-list embezzler and a big shot amongst the fabled City Hall cartels.
Between January and November 2014 Mr Kiamba banked Sh400 million in eight of his bank accounts, a situation that the EACC’s finest financial fraud experts insisted was suspicious and required deep investigations.
And when the investigation went public, the taxman’s attention was drawn. Who was this shrewd businessman banking millions? Was he paying Ceaser’s dues?
Secret bank accounts
The KRA would discover that Mr Kiamba not only had an additional three secret bank accounts that EACC detectives had not traced, but that the man on a Sh85,000 monthly salary had banked at least Sh1.5 billion in the period of interest.
More curiously was that the companies handling the excess cash from City Hall, Jimbise Limited and Muthaiga Green Acres, were mostly declaring nil returns or paying a pittance of what they had actually made.
Even with the graft investigations and other cases, Mr Kiamba still got a pay rise and was on Sh145,000 a month when he took the final walk of shame from City Hall in January 2015.
In defending his ill-gotten riches, Mr Kiamba claimed that he was born with a green thumb and that a 100-acre farm he was leasing in Narok generated Sh51.5 million.
He added that he had a quarry and transport business that generated Sh228 million and three bars in Mombasa. His other businesses and property sales earned Sh35.3 million, Mr Kiamba went on.
The explanations were despite the fact that several City Hall employees would deposit millions in Mr Kiamba’s various accounts, the most prominent being his bodyguard Barnabas Oigo with Sh69.1 million banked.
In failure to declare the multimillion-shilling empire Mr Kiamba, a seasoned accountant with all access to information at his disposal said he thought the Public Service Commission (PSC) wealth declaration forms are only used to make known money earned in the course of employment.
Others were clerk Ambrose Musa (Sh3.5 million), driver Josephat Njoroge (Sh1.3 million), deputy chief financial officer Stephen Ogaga (Sh4.1 million), an unidentified individual (Sh6 million) and Mr Kiamba (Sh7.4 million).
When the High Court applied its various tests on the submitted arguments in July 2019, Justice Hedwig Ong’udi ruled that the Sh317.6 million found to be unexplained wealth be forfeited to the state.
She further ordered that the Runda land in Mr Kiamba’s name be forfeited.
While Mr Kiamba’s case may be one of the most shocking tales to come out of City Hall in recent times, he is just one of several county officials earning average salaries but making questionable millions at one of Kenya’s biggest citadels of corruption.
Earlier this month, the EACC started a similar journey against a lower-ranking City Hall official – Wilson Nashon Kanani – who earns Sh55,000 every month but has assets worth nearly Sh100 million.
Mr Kanani is a development control officer tasked with clamping down on companies that flout laws on outdoor advertising.
Yet some of the companies he regulates send huge sums of money to his bank accounts.
Just two years after the EACC started investigating Mr Kiamba, a lower-ranking City Hall official was banking millions in his bank accounts without raising a red flag.
As Mr Kiamba’s woes were already public knowledge by this time, it simply meant that the former City Hall finance boss did not serve as a warning stern enough to keep bureaucrats out of county coffers.
Wilson Nashon Kanani was banking millions every month in what detectives now argue was funds stolen from Kenya’s capital city.
1824 Bar & Restaurant
Mr Kanani has silently been one of the principal shareholders of 1824 Bar & Restaurant in Nairobi’s Langata suburb.
It is still unclear whether detectives believe the nightclub, one of Nairobi’s most popular establishments, was founded with proceeds of graft.
The EACC investigation declared in court papers covers 2016 onwards, while 1824 opened its doors two years earlier.
But should the anti-graft detectives succeed in court, the nightclub’s future will almost certainly feature in forfeiture processes.
The EACC has filed forfeiture proceedings against Mr Kanani, his family and four companies he owns in a bid to recover millions of shillings. The companies are Wilman Auto Invests, Willy Walla International Ltd, Regineez Enterprises Ltd and Wilcoreg Ltd.
The anti-corruption watchdog argues in court papers that some of Mr Kanani’s companies are doing business with Nairobi County, a conflict of interest if proven. The EACC has not specified which of the companies it suspects is a City Hall contractor, but the Nation has established that Wilcoreg Ltd is one of the firms in the National Assembly’s pool of stationery suppliers.
Wilcoreg is also in Siaya County’s pool of firms that can be contracted to drill boreholes, build dams, water pans, roads and bridges.
The investigation on Mr Kanani comes hot on the heels of another EACC probe on City Hall procurement officer Michael Auka Ajwang, a procurement officer earning Sh53,685 monthly.
Mr Ajwang’s net salary is Sh21,000 but he is by no means an ordinary citizen.
Millions in kickbacks
The EACC has found that a section of City Hall contractors may have given the procurement officer kickbacks amounting to Sh40 million.
Mr Ajwang has accumulated five pieces of land in Siaya County, three in Kisumu County and owns a plush home in Nairobi’s Utawala estate.
He also boasts of 11 vehicles whose models have not been revealed by the anti-graft watchdog.
Mr Ajwang owns the Hydeout Riviera, a three-star hotel just off the busy Kisumu-Bondo road, at Reru junction.
The hotel boasts of offering one of the best agrotourism experiences for aficionados, with farm stay options on its list of unique services.
The EACC is investigating Mr Auka’s finances dating back to 2014 when it believes he may have started receiving suspicious bank deposits.
Justice Daniel Ogembo granted the EACC’s request to freeze the City Hall worker’s assets for the duration of the case, to avoid opening the door for Mr Ajwang to dispose of properties or drain his bank accounts.
Mr Kiamba, Mr Kanani and Mr Ajwang are, more likely than not, a small fraction of millionaires that have been minted while working for Nairobi County.
For Mr Kanani and Mr Ajwang, their innocence or otherwise is set to be determined by the courts.
Several counties are struggling with fleecing by their own staff, but Nairobi continues to stand out on account of the amounts involved in individual cases.