Armenian Affairs Redux

For much of the first half of 2006, a colourful pair of Armenian brothers, Artur Magaryan and Artur Sargasyan (variously described as possibly also being Russian or Czech nationals) amazed and shocked Kenyans with their macho antics and apparent connections to the highest office in the land.

They entered the national consciousness because of a weird dawn press conference at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport called by a Nairobi lawyer, Fred Ngatia. Ostensibly on his client’s arrival from Dubai, Ngatia told the press that the two Armenians would respond to allegations; such as those of opposition Members of Parliament, Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka, claiming the Armenians were assassins contracted to do harm to opposition politicians.

If its intention was to convince the press, and Kenyans, that the Armenians were credible international businessmen, unfairly maligned for political purposes by the opposition, then Ngatia’s March 13, 2006 press conference was remarkably devoid of any prospect of success.

For example, as it turns out, the passenger manifest (faxed by Ngatia to the press) for the Armenians’ supposed carrier Kenya Airways 311 from Dubai on March 13, was a crude forgery. The East African Standard quotes an airline official as saying: “Neither the name nor the passport number of the said man appears in our manifest for flight number KQ311 from Dubai.” As if that were not bad enough, questions were immediately raised by the alert press as to the use of the official Government of Kenya VIP Visitors Lounge, by Mr. Ngatia for his clients, which had obviously been gained with the irregular cooperation of top security, State House and airport officials. The penny dropped when neither the Armenians nor their lawyer were able to show the press flight boarding passes as evidence of their trip. Opinion crystallised once Ngatia made the bizarre claim that he was under instructions from the Government of Armenia to call the press out to the Airport in the middle of the night to meet his clients. The press duly reported the incredulous denial of the Government of Armenia.

Thereafter, Artur Magaryan and his brother Artur Sargasyan, threw lavish parties, drew guns, flashed cash and dropped the names of the crème de la crème, amidst claims that they were mercenaries, hit-men, drug dealers and arms traffickers. Most shocking, Artur Magaryan was rumoured to be enamoured of the President’s reputed daughter Winnie Wangui Mwai; herself a controversial figure and the subject of no less than 3 official government public communications since January 2004 stating that she is not the President’s relative. On the first occasion in January 2004, an unsigned press release from State House pointedly delimited the President’s family; a second addressed the press on the membership of the presidential family; while a third recounted Ms. Mwai’s names as they appear in her national identity card.

The brothers’ public antics infuriated a hostile Kenyan public, but always bubbled over until June 2006 when they finally broke the bounds of tolerance. A public outcry ensued following an incident at the customs hall of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, during which the Artur brothers, in the company of a visiting group of burly Armenians, assaulted Customs officers using guns in full view of the Police, petrified travellers, and at least one cabinet minister waiting in queue to enter Kenya. By the next evening, Kenyan television ran a live broadcast of their deportation, on first class government tickets to Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

A couple of days later on June 16, President Kibaki instituted a formal inquiry into their activities headed by a former Commissioner of Police, Shadrack Kiruki and suspended several public officers from duty for their various roles in the airport fracas. They were:

  • Joseph Kamau, the Director of the Kenya Police Criminal Investigation Department alleged to have illegally provided the Armenian group with police rank status as Assistant Commissioners of Police
  • Naomi Sidi, the Deputy Managing Director of the Kenya Airports Authority alleged to have illegally provided the Armenians with Airport Access-All-Areas’ identification documents
  • Winnie Wangui Mwai, an Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Water, who allegedly exploited her State House connections to interfere with the arrest and subsequent deportation of the Armenians
  • Edward Kiptoo Mutai, Security Warden at the Kenya Airports Authority
  • Paul Latoya, a protocol officer with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Stephen Kipruto Tumbo, Senior Superintendent of Police, OCPD Nairobi Division
  • Chief Inspector Josephat Gikonyo- OCS JKIA Police Station
  • Inspector Daniel Maithya – CIVCRIME JKIA Police Station
  • Sgt. Evelyn Owon – JKIA Police Station
  • Cpl. James Kimihu- JKIA Police Station
  • James Gitonga, Immigration officer I

After weeks of public hearings, it was clear there had been an appalling system failure at the Companies Registry, Immigration Department and the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. For example, Kenyans heard testimony from witnesses who calmly stated that there were no recordings of the incident at the airport because the closed circuit television security cameras in the customs and baggage international arrivals hall did not work.

President Kibaki received the Inquiry Report in late August 2006. It has never been made public, as promised. Nevertheless, various media have described its contents and findings:

  • It uncovers a pattern of fraud and corruption in the customs, immigration and police services, and also within the Kenyan political elite.
  • It restates the findings of an Interpol investigation which concludes that it is impossible to verify the true identities of inter alia Artur Sargasyan and Artur Magaryan, because they are in possession of travel documents reported stolen in Russia and Europe; further their company (Brother Link International Company Limited) registration documents in Kenya appear to be forgeries or at best obtained in contravention of the law
  • Its most explosive recommendation is for the prosecution for tax evasion and corporate fraud of Winnie Wangui Mwai. It also recommends her immediate dismissal from her civil service job in the Ministry of Water.
  • It accuses the Armenians of drug smuggling and money laundering and calls for their immediate arrest should they return to Kenya. Specifically, it states that it believes that Sargasyan was involved in organized crime and drug smuggling and was seeking an outlet for his illegal business in Kenya.. [1]
  • The Kiruki Commission does not attribute political responsibility for the Kibaki government’s apparent tolerance of the activities of the Armenian brothers. Nor does it report a finding on whether or not it was proper for the Minister for Internal Security to direct the Armenians’ deportation instead of prosecuting them for criminal offences.
  • It also fails to connect the Armenians with a series of cocaine shipments, worth close to 7 billion shillings, routed through Mombasa and other Kenyan ports.

In the fallout from the Armenian affair, the Director of the Kenya Police Criminal Investigation Department was suspended and subsequently retired. Also leaving the public service were the Deputy Managing Director of the Kenya Airports Authority, while it was announced that Winnie Wangui Mwai was relieved of her position at the Ministry of Water.

The Armenians now reside in Dubai, U.A.E. apparently evading international arrest warrants and the combined clutches of Interpol and the Kenya Police. Artur Magaryan claims to be writing his memoirs of his time in Kenya, which he claims will reveal bribe-taking and bribe-giving within the high echelons of Kenya’s political elite. No one has been prosecuted for any of the criminal acts identified by the Kiruki Commission. [2]

Regardless, of official statements to the contrary, Winnie Wangui Mwai has told the media that she remains in the public service. At a personal level she also confirms her intended marriage to Artur Magaryan, the more colourful of the two Armenian brothers. Considering her purported ilk, any such marriage to Artur Magaryan will be a politically significant event.


 


[1] See Brothers in Armenia, Africa Confidential Volume 47 No. 21

[2] At the time of writing a joint parliamentary committee chaired by Paul Muite and Ramadhan Kajembe was yet to table its report.