Police have interviewed shadowy millionaire and ultimate “tenderpreneur” Joseph “Jimmy” Wanjigi, over the death of businessman and Twitter activist Jacob Juma.
The two were fast friends and business associates who seem to have launched a campaign against the type of shady government deals through which they made their money.
The publicity-shy Mr Wanjigi is among 28 people — mainly friends and family — who have been questioned over the death of Juma, who was found dead in his car three weeks ago.
Mr Wanjigi is among prominent business people often mentioned in reports as having benefited from irregular deals and corruption in big government contracts.
Known as James Bond in social, political and business circles because of his shadowy but influential profile, he has achieved the significant feat of staying off the limelight — and beyond the arms of the law — even though his business operations, including Anglo Leasing-type contracting, are reputed to be every bit as controversial as Juma’s.
DEATH HIT HIM HARD
Juma’s murder appears to have hit Mr Wanjigi hard, causing him to uncharacteristically come out in the open, including serving as a pall-bearer at his friend’s funeral.
The other time he came out in public was after the death of another friend and ally, Internal Security minister George Saitoti, who died in a 2012 helicopter crash.
Mr Wanjigi, son of former Kamukunji MP Maina Wanjigi, was among the first people to view Juma’s body at the Lee Funeral Home the morning after Juma’s murder and also two days later when he went back to witness the autopsy.
At the memorial service, Mr Wanjigi was among pall-bearers at All Saints Cathedral, where he also served as the master of ceremonies.
Other than being President Uhuru Kenyatta’s schoolmate at the prestigious St Mary’s School in Nairobi, the then school of choice for the children of prominent Kenyans, no other academic achievements are known about Mr Wanjigi. He is said to shun public places and carries drinks to enjoy at home.
Despite being one of the richest Kenyans, Mr Wanjigi avoids appearing on lists of rich people and the subsequent glare of publicity that comes with appearing in wealth rankings.
The popular belief, certainly among associates, is that Mr Wanjigi was the man who bank-rolled the largely broke Juma’s campaign against Deputy President William Ruto and Jubilee.
Mr Wanjigi was influential in the Kibaki administration through allies and business associates such as Prof Saitoti. He was also close to Jubilee leaders, whom he is reported to have enthusiastically supported during the campaigns. However, relations between them cooled.
Friends say Juma decided to wage a war against the government after it cancelled his mining licences, particularly one concession said to contain untold riches in rare earth minerals.
The two businessmen are said to have entered into a marriage of convenience against the government.
“Juma was broke most of the times, since the government had cracked down on his businesses and he was struggling with court cases. Whereas he had the will to publicly wage his war, he didn’t have the resources. This is where Wanjigi came in,” an associate of the two who requested not to be named told the Nation.
Mr Wanjigi, with bucketloads of money, is said to have sourced for information on government scandals, which Juma then released to the public.
“Mr Wanjigi is said to be in a position to exert significant influence on national politics. During the Kibaki regime, Wanjigi had unusual clout in government, which he still retains.
“He has his people virtually in every important government department. He also has the resources to acquire any information from those offices,” said the source.
Mr Wanjigi’s influence is well-chronicled. He was one of the influential businessmen in the Kibaki era and he employed his political networks to help mobilise and finance Jubilee’s 2013 campaigns.
As part of his connection to power, he has been mentioned as having influenced or tendered for multibillion-shilling government projects, ranging from the Lamu project, the standard gauge railway and the second berth at the port of Mombasa.
Unlike Juma, who courted publicity, Mr Wanjigi is said to have preferred to be in the background, although he employed his resources in the campaign against Jubilee.
MENTIONED IN WIKILEAKS
He first rose to public scrutiny when he was mentioned in leaked US cables by the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks, which connected him to government tenders worth billions of shillings going back to 2002, when Mwai Kibaki won the presidency.
The Kibaki win propelled Mr Wanjigi to the national limelight, with the US cables describing him as “a relative newcomer to high-level graft”.
John Githongo, then President Kibaki’s anti-corruption adviser, named Mr Wanjigi in his dossier on government corruption as part of “a small clique of private sector deal-makers working together with an equally small cadre of senior government conspirators”.
The Githongo dossier named former minister Chris Murungaru, State House operative Alfred Getonga, and businessmen Anura Perera, Deepak Kamani and Wanjigi in connection with contracts that were later investigated and cancelled for corruption.
The leaked US diplomatic cables provided additional information.
“Getonga used his position as personal assistant to the President to connect Perera and Kamani, the two private sector deal-makers (who had operated for years doing similar deals under the previous administration) to Murungaru and other complicit senior-level officials in the Kibaki administration.
“In turn, Wanjigi, the son of a former minister and nephew of a permanent secretary already arrested for his involvement in Anglo Leasing, was the local middleman, channelling contracts and payments in both directions as the bogus procurement scams were consummated,” said the cables.
Mr Wanjigi is a nephew of former Finance permanent secretary Joseph Magari. An obituary published in the Nation on May 26 listed Mr Magari and the elder Mr Wanjigi as brothers-in-law of Mr F K Muguimi Wachira, the deceased. Mr Magari is a brother of Jimmy Wanjigi’s mother.
According to the cables, “early in the Kibaki administration, he (Wanjigi) traded on his contacts with members of Kibaki’s family (probably without Kibaki’s knowledge) to break into Kamani and Perera’s networks, and to insist on getting a cut from the security-related procurement scams the latter had become experts in engineering”.
Mr Wanjigi was also mentioned in connection with the acquisition of an overpriced naval frigate in 2003. In March 2006, the US government banned him, Mr Getonga, Mr Perera, Mr Kamani and Dr Murungaru from entering the US.
“All were central figures in a network of corrupt government officials and private sector deal-makers that has systematically stolen, or attempted to steal, a cumulative sum as high as $700 million (Sh7 billion) over the past three years by exploiting a secretive system of government security-related procurement contracts in Kenya,” said the US.
Mr Githongo alleged that Mr Wanjigi and Mr Getonga were behind the death threats that forced him to resign.
Associates describe Mr Wanjigi as an ambitious man who has fought to build his business empire, the Kwacha Group of Companies, which has interests in virtually every sector, from mining to housing.