How Kidero bought a judge: the whistleblower’s claim
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 26 – It reads like something out of a John Grisham novel; a cloak-and-dagger tale of how decisions that alter the course of history are made and of the shadowy characters that pull the strings behind the curtains.
It is important to make clear from the get-go that the events narrated herein are as told by one Geoffrey Kiplagat in a sworn affidavit regarding the allegations that Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero is in office because of a Sh200 million bribe paid to Supreme Court Justice Philip Tunoi and while the information is in the public domain, its veracity is under investigation.
That out of the way, Kiplagat tells a tale that brings to mind the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction. A tale of covert meetings, briefcases filled with cash exchanging hands in out-of-the-way places and communication in code.
In this story, Tunoi’s code name was Cherota and Kidero’s Kibet.
But, back to the beginning; how did Kiplagat, a newsman, end up at the centre of what could be one of the biggest scandals in the history of Kenya’s Judiciary?
Kiplagat claims he was approached by prominent Nairobi businessman Mike Njeru, to act as a connect to the bespectacled, soft-spoken Justice Tunoi.
“The brief was for me to contact Justice Philip Tunoi to help Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero in his case at the Supreme Court. Mike trusted me as a networked journalist, having worked with him in the past.”
The case Kiplagat refers to was an appeal Kidero made to the Supreme Court after the Court of Appeal nullified his election on the grounds that his challenger, Ferdinand Waititu, was not given a fair hearing by the High Court.
According to Kiplagat’s account, his first contact with Njeru in regard to the present matter was in May 2014.
Three months before the Supreme Court returned a verdict in Kidero’s favour with an explanation from Tunoi that the Court of Appeal should not have admitted Waititu’s appeal to begin with as it was time barred.
It’s worth noting however, that while Justice Njoki Ndung’u disagreed with Tunoi’s assessment, she too reached the conclusion that the Court of Appeal erred in nullifying Kidero’s election. Her explanation was that a violation of an individual’s rights, where the outcome of the election was not at issue, did not warrant a nullification.
I digress. Having received his marching orders from Njeru on phone, Kiplagat says he reached out to Tunoi to whom he claims to have been connected.
“I came to know Justice Tunoi personally about four years ago when he intervened to help a lady whose land had been invaded by squatters in Maziwa Market along Jogoo Road where he had interceded for us.
“Justice Tunoi acceded to my request only telling me to advise Njeru to advise his boss that there was still enough time and that we had to keep matters secret.”
A series of meetings were arranged thereafter and aborted when Justice Tunoi failed to show. “Njeru and John Osogo (identified as Kidero’s Personal Assistant) were getting impatient. This time the Judge promised to make good the meeting, always assuring me that things had been taken care of and there was still time.”
A meeting between Njeru, Osogo, Tunoi and himself, Kiplagat says, never took place. “When I asked Osogo to arrange for the meeting, he sent me the following text on August 17, ‘Tulimaliza hiyo maneno na hakuna haja kwenda Eldoret (we dispensed with the matter yesterday and there’s no need to go to Eldoret).”
In fact at this point in Kiplagat’s story, Osogo and Njeru are relegated to the role of supporting characters; not featuring prominently again until they issue death threats at the end.
Prominent Nairobi lawyer Katwa Kigen, on Tunoi’s side, and Kiprop Chirchir another businessman, “closely associated with the Governor from the time he worked at Mumias,” take centre stage.
They, according to Kipagat’s account, successfully managed to orchestrate a meeting of sorts between the two main characters with him still at the centre of it. “After delivering the briefcase he (Chirchir) drove the VX to a parallel position to enable the Judge and the Governor wave at each other and ensure that it was not a hoax. The Judge told the Governor, ‘si umeona ni mimi mwenyewe (you have verified that it is me, in person),’” is how Kiplagat describes the meeting; the brown briefcase of course being the one which allegedly contained the Sh200 million in US Dollars.
Throughout his account, Kiplagat describes a number of counter-surveillance precautions he claims Justice Tunoi insisted on; such as the use of taxis to meeting locations, the sending of text messages using different lines, the use of other people’s phones to make calls and if Kiplagat’s account is to be believed, he even sent his sister-in-law to ensure Njeru’s office – one of the places they were meant to meet – was not fitted with surveillance cameras.
“Vumilia (persevere)… Intelligence guys were on our case. Even today I spotted them round my house. Let’s stay for two or three days then we meet,” Kiplagat quotes Tunoi as having messaged him. “He did not want things to be divulged lest he be embarrassed like Shollei.”
For his trouble, Kiplagat claims to have received Sh20,000 from Kigen to facilitate him attend a funeral in his village and a job offer from Kidero. “Jemeli (the sister-in-law) still calls me asking for her share. I have asked her to talk to the judge but she says he has been evasive.”
Again, if Kiplagat’s account is to be believed, they had gotten away with it.
So why Kiplagat’s change of heart?
Fear, he claims.
“I was warned by two individuals involved (Osogo and Njeru) that I should keep quiet about what transpired or I would be endangering my life,” Kiplagat swore in the aforementioned affidavit two months later.
Chief Justice Willy Mutunga however claims to have received the affidavit a year later in November 2015.
Truth or fiction? It now falls on to a seven member committee constituted by the Judicial Service Commission on Wednesday, to work out.