Questions over the actual quantity and value the poisonous sugar controversially released to the market have now emerged after a little known trader, Chrispus Waithaka was arrested upon jetting back at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) yesterday over allegations that he masterminded the heist.
Although official government records by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) and the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) stated the condemned sugar seized five years ago was 20,000 bags of 50kilograms valued at Sh163million, it is alleged the quantity could be higher to a tune of market value of up to Sh0.8billion.
Waithaka, a director of Assets and Cargo Limited is said to have been among the people who witnessed the breaking of customs seals on the 40 containers of condemned sugar on April 20, 2023.
In December 2022, Assets and Cargo Ltd wrote suspended KEBS former Managing Director Bernard Njiraini requesting to convert the condemned brown sugar into ethanol through distillation and the consignment was released to him in April this year.
However, some of the officials arrested and questioned by detectives last week said the KRA security seals on the containers containing the consignment were removed without their consent and the commodity was sold through private treaty at a value of Sh1,000 per 50kilogram bag.
Waithaka, the alleged mastermind behind the theft of condemned sugar.
A multi-agency team comprising of the Immigration, Directorate of Criminal Investigations and the National Intelligence Service (NIS) flagged Waithaka’s passport after they received intelligence reports he was aboard an Emirates flight from Dubai to JKIA.
Upon arrival, he was seized and handed over to DCI officers for pre-charge processing before being arraigned today morning.
He was booked at Kamukunji Police Station.
During the arrest, Waithaka produced a copy of a Sh100,000 interim bail order that his lawyer said he had obtained from the Mombasa High Court on Friday.
“He was in possession of a copy of an interim order for anticipatory bail of Sh100,000 granted by the High Court in Mombasa vide Criminal Miscellaneous Application number E067/2023 dated 19 May 2023.” A preliminary police findings report reads in part.
A Cabinet Secretary and two elected Members of Parliament (MPs) are among high profile individuals believed to have played key role in the scam.
However, they are yet to be summoned by the DCI to record statements.
At least 27 people including suspended Njirani are expected to be charged over the life threatening product released to the market despite it having been declared unfit for human consumption.
The condemned sugar was seized in 2018 after being found unfit for human consumption due to cancer causing ingredients discovered in the consignment.
However, to the dismay of the DCI officers, the flagged cargo was discovered missing a fortnight ago.
It is believed the trio alongside rogue KEBS and KRA officials were involved and aided the release of poisonous sugar to Kenyan market.
The clandestine plot that exposes Kenyans to grave health hazards was executed in December last year.
This is the second-high profiling scandal to mire the nascent president William Ruto’s
Merako Investments Limited imported the said sugar into the country in 2018 when it was flagged and detained pending destruction through burying or burning under supervision of experts.
President Ruto through the Chief of Staff and Head of Public Service Felix Koskei has already cracked the whip through dismissals affecting 27 people.
“It has since been established that the consignment was irregularly diverted and unprocedurally released. Further, the conditions relating to open and competitive enlisting of the distiller were breached and the applicable taxes were not paid. It is manifest that some officers in the relevant agencies abdicated their responsibilities, at the risk of public harm.” A dispatch from State House read in part.
The condemned sugar was supposed to be stored at Vinepack Industries in Thika but it is now emerging that Vinepack contracted Kings Commodities Limited in Thika to store the sugar.
In September 2022, Vinepack Limited was raided by the KRA over claims of operating without a licence, producing counterfeit liquor and evading taxes.
On April 12, 2023 the multi-agency team was summoned to coordinate release of the condemned sugar by KRA; it was supposed to be converted into ethanol for industrial use upon arrival in Nairobi.
On the same day, all the 20,000 bags of the condemned sugar were dispatched to Thika for distillation at Vinepack industries.
Estimations reveal that it took 8 days to process the consignment at the Port of Mombasa, dispatch the same to Thika and offload the sugar for storage.
On April 20, 2023, the consignment was received in Thika by the Nairobi-based multi-agency team where they witnessed the disarming of the cargo, removal of the seals and offloading into go-downs contracted by the distiller – Vinepack.
Besides Njiraini, other KEBS officials axed include; Geoffrey Muriira (Director of Quality Assurance and Inspection), Hilda Keror (Manager Inspection, Mombasa Port Office), Liston Lagat (Assistant Manager, ICDN Nairobi), Stephen Owuor (Principal Officer), and Peter Olima Joseph (Inspector, Mombasa).
Those affected in KRA include Joseph Kaguru, Mwanja Masinde, Stephen Muiruri, Moses Okoth, Doris Mutembei, Chacha Hondo, Carol Nyagechi and Derick Kago.
Other officials from police who are part of multi-agency team that handled the sugar and were also suspended include George Mithamo, Joel Kirui, Benard Ngumbi and Raphael Mwaka.
Others include Joseph Maita Mweni (Port Health), Isacko Bonai (NEMA), Stephen Cheruiyot (Anti-Counterfeit Agency), Daniel Ngugi (KEPHIS), Willy Koskei (EACC), and Edwin Ruto (KPA).
AFA officials affected are Oscar Kai and Patrick Magut.