Of all the audacious things that National Super Alliance supremo Raila Odinga has done in a long career packed with bold political moves, his friendship and alliance with uber tenderpreneur and corrupt deal maker Jimi Wanjigi is the most puzzling.
Mr Wanjigi has grown in 15 years of shady deals from an ordinary hustler to a continental oligarch with a flat in London’s Park Lane, a massive mansion on five acres on Muthaiga Road just yards from the residence of the US ambassador, homes in Zurich and bolt holes in Dubai.
He is by far the most feared man in Kenya: the US embassy barred him from the US because, in part, it believed he had threatened to kill whistleblower John Githongo.
His influence in the security sector, military, parastatals, Parliament, mainline civil service and the media — he keeps lists of people he is believed to have paid off — is comparable to that of Edgar Hoover, the former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, who survived in office through intimidation.
Long term investigations by the Nation have revealed a story of an almost impossibly wealthy tender oligarch, whose money affords him a degree of political influence, which has turned the Kenyan political class, intelligentsia and media into mere pawns in a corrupt chess game where the Kenyan economy is plucked like a chicken.
Mr Wanjigi is emerging as one of the driving forces behind the formation of Nasa, which brings together Mr Odinga, former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, and former Cabinet ministers Moses Wetang’ula and Musalia Mudavadi.
Mr Wanjigi is Kenya’s equivalent of the Russian oligarchs and is one of the few tycoons who quietly control the country.
And like the oligarchs; he grew rich by gaining privileged access to single-sourced multi-billion government tenders, which he now uses to his advantage.
How Mr Wanjigi has elbowed his way into the big league is a story of how one man operates like the rapacious kleptocrats and how he has built an enormous briefcase business empire — Tyl Limited — that transacts business in billions of shillings — albeit without any known manufacturing or engagement in the service industry.
That he pulls the political strings at the top echelons of Nasa, where he is the funds mobiliser, is now widely known and, according to some Nasa insiders, he has personally bankrolled most of its campaigns, allowing them to use his private helicopter, registration 5Y-JWJ.
His backing of Nasa prompted a cynical headline in Africa Intelligence, part of a group of publications with good sources, which said: “Businessman Jimmy Wanjigi, a cash dispenser for Odinga.”
Previously, Mr Wanjigi enjoyed good standing in Jubilee, where he is reputed to have brokered the alliance between William Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP) and Uhuru Kenyatta’s The National Alliance (TNA).
RELATIONS WITH JUBILEE
His influence is also felt in neighbouring Tanzania, where his dalliance with President John Magufuli is known and pundits say he helped set up a separate tallying system in the country during the last election.
It is due to Mr Wanjigi and Mr Odinga’s tight relationship with the Tanzanian government that a chill exists in relations between the two countries — especially after the relationship between Mr Wanjigi, Mr Ruto and Mr Kenyatta faltered after he found that he was not the prime agent of the Sh330 billion standard gauge railway — a project that was reputedly his brainchild during the Grand Coalition government of Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki.
With the falling out, the tycoon has put his bet on Nasa, hoping to regain his political influence and control over government and its various organs.
In the world of oligarchs and kleptocrats, such billionaires arrange for political alliances in the hope that they will retain their ability to pull political strings and ensure that a business environment that favours their interests is put in place.
In political science, this is now known as State Capture — a new form of corruption in emerging democracies where billionaires manipulate not only policy formation but also craft budgets, and shape the laws and regulations of the State to their own advantage.
On Sunday, Mr Githongo argued that corruption in Kenya has been elevated to theft and plunder.
“We don’t have corruption in Kenya. That has been normalised. We have theft and plunder,” he said.
But he would not respond to questions of whether Kenya has become a captive State and Mr Wanjigi’s role in Nasa.
Mr Paul Mwangi, a lawyer who is playing a key role in the Nasa campaign, said his role was restricted to responding to legal issues.
Two vocal MPs who are members of the opposition alliance switched off their phones when asked about Mr Wanjigi’s role.
By all accounts, Kenya was by 2013 on the way to becoming a captive state.
Mr Wanjigi was running almost all government contracting behind the scenes, not just in infrastructure but also in the security sector where mind-boggling corruption is hidden under thick layers of secrecy.
Using Chinese fronts, Mr Wanjigi was building the country’s IT infrastructure — such as tax and immigration systems — the airport, SGR, the coal plant in Mombasa, to name but just a few.
And he was in pole position to lend his influence and throw billions at the Kibaki succession.
In the course of investigations, the Nation caught a glimpse of the international workings of Mr Wanjigi, the immense wealth that he has and the political dealings that he makes as a result.
Money is usually wired from his Tyl Limited account at the National Bank of Dubai in millions of dollars and christened “business loan” — even to companies that he owns and individuals he has worked with.
For instance, he gave a “business loan” of USD500,000 (Sh50 million) to Wang Guang Wen, the local project manager for China Petroleum Pipeline Bureau, which has been winning multi-billion tenders in Kenya Pipeline.
The money was deposited in the personal account of Mr Wang at the Hebei Branch of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.
He also extended similar favours to the widow of a former official who died a few years ago.
Four months after the husband’s death, Mr Wanjigi asked his bank manager, a Mr Timir Shah, to transfer Sh10 million to the widow’s account at the National Bank of Dubai and within six months he had deposited Sh50 million as “business loan”.
These transactions coincide with the period that Mr Wanjigi was doing multi-billion businesses with the National Youth Service (NYS) as the local agent for China National Aero-Technology International Engineering Company (Catic), which was not only training the servicemen but also supplying equipment.
In a clear manifestation of state capture, Mr Wanjigi conceives of projects, or participates in the conception, gets government officials to own them, then he liaises with Chinese companies which can secure infrastructure funding from Chinese policy banks, particularly China Export Import Bank (Exim) and China Development Bank.
For that, he acts as the local agent and gets between 9 and 15 per cent of the contract sum.
It is a game he has played since the Kanu years when he entered into security tenders, thanks to former vice-president George Saitoti and his friendship with former National Security Intelligence Service boss Wilson Boinett.
By being close to both Prof Saitoti and Mr Boinett, the wheeler-dealer was privy to the security demands and that is how he became a key figure in the Anglo Leasing scandal.
All these contracts were for security equipment that included tamper-proof passports, forensic laboratories, helicopters, and satellite services through single-sourcing.
The deals also relied on crooked financing arrangements where shadowy offshore companies purported to finance projects, while in actual fact the government of Kenya was lending itself money and paying dearly for it.
In all these, Mr Wanjigi was operating at the rear, though he was widely known within the government procurement departments.
Mr Wanjigi gained political prominence with the Anglo Leasing scandal in which fictitious and briefcase companies were single-sourced and awarded multi-billion-shilling security tenders during the final years of the Kanu regime.
Pending payments to these phony companies were revived shortly after President Mwai Kibaki won the presidency on an anti-corruption ticket.
GITHONGO IN DANGER
Exploiting his relations with members of the Kibaki family as well as key presidential staff, he neatly inherited the incoming regime and became its most prominent deal-maker.
According to the US embassy cables, his first big windfall was a $5.6 million (Sh560 million) he shared with a powerful Cabinet minister.
Anglo Leasing not only tainted the early years of the Kibaki presidency, but also tarnished the names of his senior Cabinet ministers who happily embraced the graft projects by dismissing it as a “scandal that never was” and trying to cover up and intimidate the whistle blower, Mr Githongo, the then-permanent secretary for Ethics.
By then, the most feared name was that of Mr Wanjigi and Parliament was told that he had threatened to kill Mr Githongo.
Interestingly, Mr Githongo and other civil society mandarins who fought hard to reveal the Anglo Leasing scandal now enjoy advisory status in Nasa — bankrolled by the man they fought.
It is a case of how different interests have converged to make strange bedfellows.
Before he fled to UK, Mr Githongo had revealed in a dossier that Mr Wanjigi was at the heart of these Anglo Leasing projects and acted as an agent of various companies associated with the Kamani family and businessman Anura Leslie Pereira, that had lined up for the billions.
“This is where he made his billions. Before that, Jimi was an average person by millionaire standards,” a close friend now tells us in confidence.
At the heart of this phony scheme were 18 grossly overpriced state security contracts worth a combined $770 million and which were made with several foreign and domestic entities — the latter acting as agents.
The name Anglo Leasing is derived from the company that was awarded the first of the contracts.
The passport printing scheme had been mooted in the 2001/2002 financial year when the Moi administration sought to replace the country’s printing system.
On July 27, 2001, the Cabinet had also met and approved the use of lease financing to fund projects in the transport and housing sectors as well as in forensic laboratories.
BARRED FROM USA
Mr Wanjigi and his associates used these approvals to have smooth flow into the billionaires club and it is now known that between 1997 (four years before the Cabinet’s approval) and 2003, some 18 contracts worth more than Sh55 billion had already been signed.
Ten more projects were signed before December 2002, while eight more contracts were signed after July 2003 during Mwai Kibaki’s administration.
That Mr Wanjigi as the agent managed to play a hand in all these is now known by various agent contract documents in our possession and the hundreds of millions of shillings that were wired into his Dubai accounts or by associating with a plethora of phantom entities that were used to perpetrate fraud on the Kenyan taxpayer through non-delivery of goods and services and massive overpricing.
It was due to these phony dealing that the British and US governments barred Mr Wanjigi from gaining entry to their countries.
An alumni of St Mary’s School, most of whom coalesce around President Uhuru Kenyatta, Mr Wanjigi is also the man who brought together William Ruto and Mr Kenyatta to gun for the presidency on the Jubilee ticket in the 2013 election after the man he was backing in the 2013 race, former Vice-President George Saitoti, died.
Had Prof Saitoti lived, pundits say, chances are that he would have won the presidency easily, given the immense networks — both political and financial — that he had built over the years.
Pathologists who conducted post-mortem exams on the victims of the helicopter air crash that killed the then Internal Security minister said Prof Saitoti and his assistant minister Orwa Ojode might have been poisoned, together with the crew of the doomed helicopter.
By bringing together Mr Ruto and Mr Kenyatta, the billionaire was hoping that he would be allowed to continue with the project that he had mooted during the Grand Coalition government — the Sh320 billion standard gauge railway project, which was his brainchild.
Mr Wanjigi had cut a lucrative deal with Chinese companies that had lined up for the project and he was to get close to Sh32 billion from the 10 per cent agency fee that he normally charges via his Tyl Limited Company.
When he was locked out of Jubilee, despite bankrolling their campaign with close to Sh600 million, according to some Jubilee sources, Mr Wanjigi decided to turn to Nasa for solace.
JACOB JUMA KILLED
His close friends now say that he was the hand behind tenderpreneur Jacob Juma — whose Twitter handle’s business was to attack President Kenyatta and Mr Ruto and expose scandals within the Jubilee regime.
But Juma was killed on May 5, 2016 by unknown gunmen and Mr Wanjigi now believes that this was a warning shot directed at him.
Mr Odinga has continued to claim that Juma’s murder was the work of the police.
It was only after Juma’s death that Mr Wanjigi emerged into the public for the first time in many years.
During the funeral, Mr Wanjigi was the man who led the pallbearers and escorted the politicians who made political capital on Juma’s death.
The question in the minds of many is: how much damage will his presence do to the coalition’s anti-corruption platform?
And how, if it wins power, will Nasa rein in a man who knows the government better than the principals?
This story was first published on the Daily Nation