Kamlesh Pattni

Goldenberg architect Kamlesh Pattni is escorted to the High Court in Nairobi for the hearing of a case in which he was charged with killing his German bodyguard Friedrich Kohlwes at Tigoni, Kiambu, on March 24, 1994.

| File | Nation Media Group

Murder, fake currency, guns and gold: When Goldenberg hyenas ate their own

What you need to know:

  • Friedrich Wilhem Kohlwes used to drive around Nairobi while armed with “sophisticated guns” and some hubris, at times, peppered with a bit of arrogance.
  • The German national had been employed as the ‘driver’ of Kamlesh Pattni, the man who would pull off the biggest fictitious gold and diamonds exports in the republic.

He was a sniper; perhaps, a sharpshooter – or both. Those who knew him said that the 41-year-old Friedrich Wilhem Kohlwes used to drive around Nairobi while armed with “sophisticated guns” and some hubris, at times, peppered with a bit of arrogance. He was German and one of his Kenyan girlfriends, Susan, an air hostess, was the daughter of one of the country’s top detectives. In the mix was also a Kenyan wife, Veronica. Kohlwes had a child with each.

In Nairobi, the German national had been employed as the ‘driver’ of the man who would pull the biggest fictitious gold and diamonds exports in the republic – Kamlesh Pattni, the kingpin of the Goldenberg International. The other shareholder in this company was spy chief James Kanyotu, the director of intelligence who, for many years, no journalist dared to photograph or write a story about.

Kohlwes arrived in Nairobi just about the time that Kanyotu was introducing Pattni to President Moi in order to get a monopoly to export gold and diamonds and in return get compensated for his efforts in bringing the much-needed foreign exchange.

Here, he used different names: Bernard Wilhem Pertoskis and Bernd Petroswski. His other task, according to associates, was to train Pattni’s security in target firing. He was also the fake currency printer, or supplier.

It was early 1990, at the height of the clamour for multi-party politics, when Kohlwes arrived at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to take up his job as a ‘driver’ though he was also Pattni’s ‘head of security.’ For context, and unrelated, this happened just about the time that the minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Robert Ouko was assassinated and also when Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia were giving the push towards pluralism a new fillip.

At the airport, Kohlwes was picked by Pattni’s then business ally, Muzahim Salim, who was also well connected within the Kanu ranks. Soon, he would later admit, he secured the German national a work permit and a driving licence. Notoriety within Kanu had reached the zenith.

By this time, Pattni had set up his operation base on the second floor of Moi Avenue’s Mageso chambers – though he moved to View Park Towers when the Goldenberg trickle turned into a torrent. Kohlwes settled well in Nairobi and, at first, lived in a house in Parklands.

But looking back, it now appears that Kohlwes drove on the fast lane or stepped on somebody in the course of duty. For by March 1994, he was dead. Within a week, and in the absence of his German family, he was buried in Grave No. 73 Block CE4 of Lang’ata Cemetery in a burial witnessed by various wheeler dealers who had hobnobbed with him within the short time that he had operated in Nairobi.

Kohlwes had a home in Tigoni, Limuru, where he lived with his Kenyan wife, Veronica, and two “workers” - Mary Okotse, the house help, and Joseph, the groundsman.

Kohlwes’ murder

On the day the Goldenberg sniper died, Kohlwes’ Kenyan wife had left for Nairobi to attend a function. Apparently, as Veronica told the police, Kohlwes was unwell and opted to stay at home. But when she returned at 7.30pm, she found him sprawled on the floor of their bedroom with blood oozing from the mouth with a wound on the left side of the head.

Whether he was dead at his house has never been clear but what we know is that he was put on the co-driver’s seat and rushed to Nazareth Hospital. The health facility, however, refused to take him in since he was already dead; a police case. Thus, they advised Veronica to drive to Tigoni Police Station and report. 

Chief Inspector of Police, David Apollo Jakaiti, a man who had been involved in the Dr Robert Ouko investigations, asked his colleague Corporal Muthiani to assist Veronica. By then Jakaiti was the Officer Commanding Station, Tigoni.

“The deceased’s body was kept in a seated position in the front passenger seat,” Muthiani told a court. He then drove to Tigoni house, did some preliminary investigation and past midnight he took the body to City Mortuary as instructed by Jakaiti. Interestingly, Muthiani never took statements from the house help, Mary Okotse, and the gardener and so we don’t know what they saw on that day.

Why? Nobody knows.

Ten years later, and as Deputy Public Prosecutor Phillip Murgor revived the investigations and had Kamlesh Pattni arrested over the murder, Jakaiti , by then a Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police, was killed with a single bullet to the chest in what police described as the result of a scuffle with an armed gang. Some said it was related to the continued annihilation of investigators and witnesses in the Dr Ouko murder – while others claimed it was related to this Tigoni case.

Tigoni was Kohlwes’ hide-out, nay, a crime scene. Inside the house was a fake money printing machine operated by Kohlwes and, perhaps, the source of the many fake currencies that were doing rounds in early 90s and, especially, the 1992 General Election season.

This machine would, two months after Kohlwes’ murder, be inherited by another German, Jurgen Steinhort, who had rented a Mombasa beach bungalow in Kijipwa for three months. It was here that he was smoked out by detectives and found with fake dollars, then worth Sh54.7 million. He would later tell a court in Mombasa that the fake currency and the printing machine was ferried to him by “Carol Kohlwes” – the alias used by Veronica. He was also found with a pistol and five rounds of ammunition which he claimed belong to Kohlwes.

This particular piece of evidence was never tabled in court and neither did investigators try to look for motives around the fake currency saga. But they seemed to have all the clues since they traced the machine to Mombasa, two months after Kohlwes’ murder and charged Steinhort.

Steinhort claimed in court that he was a mechanic and that he had been invited to Kenya by Kohlwes and Goldenberg International – though he never stated his duties, though he said he was importing cars from Germany and had hoped to settle in Kenya.

Kohlwes death was intriguing – and even today, 28 years later, the cover up was so loud and pointed to various interests both in the civil and the criminal world.

Underworld of sleaze

When Pattni became the fall guy, and we don’t know how much he knew, witnesses told the court in the murder trial that two days before Kohlwes was found dead, he had complained that he was being threatened by Pattni for allegedly giving away information concerning his business. He also complained that Pattni had refused to pay him profit out of foreign currencies he gave him.

But all that was according to Muzahim, whose fall out with Pattni was epic, and would have wanted to fix the man a Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Goldenberg affair would later label a “perjurer, a forger, a fraudster and a thief”.

As the head of security at the Goldenberg International, Kohlwes seemed to be running a unit bigger than it has ever been realised. His close associates told the court that Goldenberg had about 40 security men drawn from Europe, Nepal, locals and from the General Service Unit (GSU). Their work was to escort money to the banks and escort friends and members of Pattni’s family. The GSU were withdrawn in 1999 after a public uproar.

Nairobi had turned dangerous while the underworld of sleaze and fake currency had turned lethal. Investigations into such crime in the 1990s were following the Dr Ouko script – perhaps the lowest that pathology ever dived to when it was suggested that Dr Ouko broke his leg, shot and burnt himself.

So many gaps were left in the investigations that when the Public Prosecutor Philip Murgor attempted to re-open this investigation he was confronted with the harsh reality. First, the post-mortem report by Dr Kilasi Olumbe was criticised as “inadequate” since the date of his post-mortem report was not clear and also he had not indicated the name of the officer who witnessed the post-mortem and the name of the doctor performing. He had also not taken samples for further analysis.

After the body was exhumed 10 years later, pathologists were confronted with a puzzle: Prof Gatei noted that the greater horn of the hyoid bone (located above the Adam’s Apple) was missing which, to him, meant that the man was strangulated.

Dr Rogena said she did not find any significance in the missing hyoid bone and concluded that the cause of death was “indeterminable”. She also did not find Dr Olumbe’s report inadequate for lack of taking samples for analysis. She said that facilities in Kenya were inadequate to allow for the taking of samples for further tests or analysis and that none were taken unless it was really necessary. It was Dr Olumbe’s conclusion that the deceased had died of natural causes.

However, Justice Jessie Lesiit adopted Dr Olumbe’s report since he had checked the body before it decomposed. With that, we shall never know the truth.

It also emerged that two death certificates, with different causes of death, had been issued in Kiambu. Why? We still don’t know. Police had meanwhile advanced various theories on the cause of death in the reports they gave to the pathologist; assault, murder, poisoning, gunshot, and passing sharp object through the ears. These were contained in the briefings done by the DPP Murgor and investigating officer, Mutie. But this was hard to prove in court.

The case had been messed up from the beginning. Justice Lesiit actually wondered why the prosecutor and the police were reopening the case after 10 years and charging Pattni. The answer, which the judge will never find, is that before the fall of the Kanu regime, nobody would have dared touch that case.

And with time, the evidence and witnesses disappeared. More so, the choreographed and messed up investigations meant that the truth was buried with the deceased – a sniper who tragically ended the way he lived. The Goldenberg hyenas, and sleaze ecology which was fed through it, had eaten one of their own. “Live by the sword, die by the sword"

[email protected] @johnkamau1