Far too often, money—or the lack of it—has been the deciding factor in police investigations in Kenya.
The criminal justice system seems more just for the wealthy and slow or non-existent if you are poor.
Police investigations – and the speed of such probes – have been increasingly getting favourable for the moneyed.
Through this piece, MUHURI is laying bare inequalities facing the poor, and exposing special treatment police are giving the rich. We are calling to ensure justice for all.
Wealthy heiress dies
Omar Lali Omar, a 51-year-old Lamu local who dated Keroche heiress, Tecra Muigai, is behind bars.
Detectives link him to her death, which according to media reports, occurred on April 23, 2020, after she fell from staircases.
Muigai succumbed to injuries she sustained on the left side of her head, a preliminary autopsy showed. Government pathologist Johansen Oduor said the injuries were consistent with a fall down the stairs.
Investigations into her death have illustrated more starkly how swiftly and efficiently the wheels of justice turn for the rich, and how there is virtually no justice for the poor.
Muigai’s parents own a multibillion Keroche Industries Limited, an alcohol company that is over two decades old.
Demises of wealthy figures in Kenya are synonymous with the speedy probes, where top-notch detectives and massive state machinery, are deployed to unravel circumstances resulting in the deaths. Such cases have seen the hasty arrest and arraignment. Police always request for more time to detain suspects.
But Kenyans hardly witness this kind of speedy and sophisticated investigation when hundreds of poor die, many extrajudicially and in the hands of brutal police.
Muigai, media reports say, fell from staircases while at a hotel in Lamu, causing Omar to rush her to Shella Dispensary. The facility transferred her to King Fahad Hospital, Lamu for specialized treatment.
Later, an Amref Air Rescue Ambulance airlifted Muigai to Nairobi Hospital. Omar was by her side.
Insiders say Muigai fell out with her family after choosing Lali. She was converting to be a Muslim. Lali supported her.
Days after her admission at Nairobi Hospital, Muigai died, and police escorted Omar back to Lamu, where they detained and arraigned him on May 5, 2020, in connection with her death.
Lamu court allowed police to hold Omar for 21 days to complete investigation.
The arraignment took place without police establishing Muigai’s cause of death.
MUHURI conducted dozens of interviews that corroborated Muigai was intoxicated at the time she fell, resulting in her hospitalization. She had ordered and took bottles of Vodka that had a 40 per cent alcohol by volume.
Doctors at King Fahad Hospital recommended a pabrinex injection on Muigai. Medics use such jab for rapidly correcting severe depletion or malabsorption of vitamins B and C, particularly in alcoholism, where a severe reduction of thiamine can lead to life-threatening brain condition, Wernicke encephalopathy. People who drink too much alcohol usually have a lack of vitamin B in the body due to poor diet and frequently missed meals.
Doctor’s report at King Fahad Hospital indicated traces of alcohol. But a friend to Muigai’s family ordered this part expunged because “Amref would have refused to conduct an air evacuation”.
After Muigai’s death, 10 highly trained and experienced homicide detectives from Nairobi flew to Lamu to handle the probe. They arrived in shifts. The first team inspected the crime scene and areas Muigai last visited. They were thorough, a stark contrast from investigations touching on the ordinary Kenyans, many living in squalor.
The second group of investigators focused on witnesses’ statements. Locals and those quizzed said police recorded their accounts with precision, keen to write even minute details. Sleuths spent days in Lamu Island trying to crack the case.
Kinoti empathizes with moneyed
The government in 2019 acted as is in Muigai’s case after it deployed top investigators when Dutch billionaire Tob Cohen went missing, later being found dead, and dumped inside a septic tank at his home in Kitisuru, Nairobi.
The Director of Criminal Investigation (DCI), George Kinoti – as a show of empathy – hugged Cohen’s sister, Gabrielle Van Straten, after retrieving the body, putting his impartiality on a sharp focus.
But Kinoti has never emotionally embraced the families of poor Kenyans, whose kin died in police custody or passed on mysteriously. And neither has the government launched a breakneck investigation or flown detectives into remote villages to crack such deaths, many that ended up unresolved, and left wounds hurting even more.
For instance, the government is yet to act after police in 2018 murdered Caleb Espino at Changamwe police station, Mombasa despite overwhelming evidence against the culprits.
During coronavirus curfew on April 1, 2020, a helpless 22-year-old Erick Ngethe died in Kwale after police fired tear gas inside a pub he was working. Police clobbered Ng’ethe’s head leading to his death.
Ironically, this murder, which triggered fury locally and internationally, is yet to get the government’s attention or warrant inquiry by Nairobi-based detectives. Police have not recorded statements from witnesses, and are yet to question suspects or arraigned any, over 40 days after the murder. But police arrested Omar just two days after Muigai died.
The similar fate, where police investigation appears selective and supports the notion that Kenya has two sets of laws – for the moneyed and poor – has befallen hundreds of poor slum dwellers, whom security agents murdered their kin during the 2017 post-election violence.
It is hard to disbelieve that the law works best for the rich, who always come out on top at the expense of the poor. One asks whether such investigations are fuelled by money.
Why Lamu court?
If police, who escorted Omar from Nairobi to Lamu before arresting him knew he was a person of interest, why did they fail to hold or arraign him in the capital courts?
The choice of Lamu court, which is far away from media scrutiny in Nairobi, is a clear indication that it can be easily be manipulated.
It was a mockery of justice for police to arrest and arraign Omar before commencing investigations, then request the court for extra days to detain him.
In Cohen’s murder, her wife, Sarah Wairimu — an equally wealthy and influential fellow – was arrested by police after thorough investigation and the retrieval of her husband’s body. The court has since released Wairimu on bail.
This case study sucks in the Office of Director of Public Prosecution (ODPP) that must not appear to be unduly influenced by police whose characters and integrity are questionable. ODPP must decline any inconclusive file.
Police must only arraign suspects after completing investigations, as was in Cohen’s case, and not what happened to Omar, whom cops arraigned before launching a probe. The poor in Kenya must also enjoy breakneck, impartial, and thorough probes, just like the rich.