The Asset Recovery Agency (ARA) has dropped a Sh113 million “dirty cash” case against a woman who was at the centre of investigations into an international money laundering scheme involving foreigners.
The state agency terminated the cash-freeze suit yesterday against Ms Tebby Wambuku Kago, giving her the greenlight to use the money amounting to $909,900 (Sh113.1 million) that she received as a “love gift” from a Belgium-based tycoon two years ago.
Ms Wambuku received the money in April 2021 from Marc De Mesel, a Belgian cryptocurrency expert, who also wired more than Sh300 million to three other Kenyan women and a university student.
They are Ms Wambuku’s sister Jane Wangui Kago, her friend Felista Nyamathira Njoroge and Sarah Wambui Kamanda.
Ms Wambuku received Sh113 million, Ms Nyamathira Sh109 million, Ms Wangui Sh49 million and Ms Wambui Sh100 million. The women claimed to be in romantic relationships with the Belgium millionaire.
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.
Little is known about Ms Wambuku because her age or occupation were not disclosed by the ARA in court papers. The agency said she had stated in her account opening statements at Equity Bank that she was self-employed. The account was opened on February 22, 2021.
The deposits in her accounts, however, did not show any other source of income apart from the money received from Mr De Mesel, pushing the ARA to suspect that the money was proceeds of crime.
An analysis by ARA showed deposits amounting to $909,900 were made August 6 and 10, 2021 into Ms Wambuku’s dollar account. Together with her sister Wangui, they operated six accounts at Equity bank.
Court documents show that Mr De Mesel wired $224,975 on August 6 and later sent $229,975 on August 10, another $234,975 and later $219,975 on the same day. In September, Ms Wambuku distributed a total of $278,799 to several accounts including hers and another one registered in the name of Sarah Njoki.
The transaction raised eyebrows of the ARA, which moved to court and obtained preservation orders of the bank accounts on suspicion that the funds were illicit.
When the suit was called yesterday for mention before the High Court in Milimani, Nairobi, the ARA stated that investigations into the alleged financial crimes bore no fruit.
The money is legit as the investigations into the allegations of money laundering yielded nothing. According to ARA, Ms Wambuku was suspected to be part of a complex money laundering scheme involving foreigners in which their bank accounts are used as conduits of illicit funds.
"We urged the court to allow the withdrawal of the suit. The investigations found no sufficient evidence to sustain the forfeiture proceedings. We have a consent signed by both parties to have the matter withdrawn," ARA lawyer Mohamed Adow told court. Justice Esther Maina allowed the application.
At the time of freezing the bank accounts of Ms Wambuku, Ms Wangui, Ms Njoroge and Ms Wambui in 2021, ARA said it swung into action after receiving information into suspected cases of money laundering involving multiple money transactions through the bank accounts of the recipients in foreign currencies.
Investigators claimed that the foreigner was in Kenya in 2017 and was living on 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.
However, Mr De Mesel said there is no rule or regulation stopping or prohibiting an individual from receiving a gift.
He further revealed that his source of income is from capital appreciation by investing in assets such as stocks, bonds and precious metals.
“I have invested, for example, in Tesla, an American automotive and clean energy firm in the past few years,” he said in court papers.
The investor said he grew up in Belgium — the northern Dutch part called Flanders, and got into investments in 2008, pumping money in cryptocurrencies and stocks.