Tuesday , February 7 2023

Is Kenya turning into a hub for gold scammers?

Welcome to Nairobi, the city of gold scammers, a city where many have lost millions of dollars to bling-bling-wearing fraudsters, who have tentacles and partners across Africa — from Kampala to Lagos, Kinshasa to Niamey.

Their victims are mostly foreigners who, after realising they were conned, resort to court cases that drag on in Kenya.

The suspects make their victims believe that they are top government officials or work with them for faster delivery of gold consignments.

They mostly operate in Kilimani, Nairobi, and have recently moved to opulent areas of the city such as Karen and Kileleshwa. Their offices are flashy, well furnished with real or fake gold-plated chairs and tables, and they drive around in the latest top-of-the-range vehicles. They will fly them to Kampala in Uganda or even Dubai in the United Arab Emirates just to prove that theirs is a genuine business.

In the numerous cases in Nairobi courts, plaintiffs have testified how they were even taken to the Department of Mining and geology laboratories, where smelting of real gold is conducted, to see that the business is genuine. They would also be allowed to weigh the consignments and seal them only to end up with fake gold bars.

Among the suspects in court are Jared Otieno, Samir Munyinyi, Paul Kobia, Ricky Otieno, Philip Oroko and Kevin Obia alias Kevin Kleigh.

The victims include rally driver and Dutch investor Bernhard Ten Brinke, who lost more than $1.5 million to suspected fraudster Elvis Ouma Muga alias Nick Muganda.

Mr Brinke claims he wired the amount to a lawyer who was involved in the transaction sometime in January 2021, for the purchase of 500kg of gold but the consignment was never delivered to him. He says he entered into a contract to purchase the gold with a man called George Fundu, through Global Freight Management Ltd.

Mr Brinke, allegedly accompanied by a representative, Ewuot Haanstra, visited a gold smelting premises and witnessed 50kg of gold being smelted. Haanstra, allegedly paid $1.56 million into an escrow account opened by Ochieng Opiyo Advocates for payment of 450kg of gold, but Mr Muga failed to deliver the precious metal.

In April, the Kenyan High Court froze several accounts in two banks after an application by Assets Recovery Agency, saying the owners were involved in money laundering.

The accounts frozen belong to Mubadala Merchants Limited, First Cargo Logistics Ltd, First Line Capital Ltd and Doumbe Malonga Eddy Michel and are held in Standard Chartered Bank and Cooperative Bank.

Christian Galati, a Swiss national, who accused Mr Obia of defrauding him, told a Nairobi court that he was convinced that all the bars he was presented with were gold.

When he was shown the gold bars, they had been placed in 17 boxes and he chose box number 4.

While freeing Mr Kobia of charges of obtaining $143,762 from Christian Galati, a Swiss national, in July 2021, Nairobi Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi wondered why the victim was comfortable moving around with loads of cash, when the world had moved to paperless transactions.

“He is doing all these when he presents himself as an international businessman, with several companies in various parts of the world,” the magistrate said.

“The box was sealed in blue seal number 1731363. Accompanied by the Customs officer, who was turned away at the security point, the complainant (Mr Galati) went with the boxes to his Hilton room. He came back with the money in hard cash and gave Smith Mackenzie who handed it to the accused person (Kobia),” Mr Andayi noted.

Although the charge of obtaining money fraudulently was dropped, the court put Mr Kobia on his defence for allegedly attempting to obtain more millions from Mr Galati. He was arrested as he went to receive a further $57,000 from Mr Galati. An accomplice, only identified as Smith Mackenzie, but who the court was told was Mr Otieno, is said to have escaped a police dragnet.

Mr Otieno and several others are battling several cases in court for allegedly obtaining millions from foreigners with a promise of delivering gold to them. Mr Galati later tested the consignment only to discover that it was brass and not gold.

Besides fake gold charges, Mr Otieno is battling a petition by Assets Recovery Agency, which seized his property, including a Bentley, furniture and electrical appliances. The items were seized from his Kaputei Gardens house in Kilimani, with the agency claiming that they are proceeds of crime.

In the fraud case, Mr Otieno and 15 others are charged with conspiracy to defraud a foreigner, Sounthorn Chathavong, of $3 million. They denied the charge and are out on bond.

The prosecution alleged that between February 8 and 25, 2019, they displayed heavy metal boxes allegedly with genuine gold to Chathavong, a director of Simuong Group Company from Laos.

The said transaction allegedly took place at office trading in the name of Nirone Keeping Ltd, while pretending that they were carrying out genuine gold sales business. In the second count, the suspects were accused of obtaining money by false pretences.

The prosecution alleged that the accused persons made trademarks to be genuine stickers authorised by the Ghana Customs Authority. All of them are alleged to have been found with fake gold. The accused included two students, a watchman, gardener and one Chadian and two Congolese.

In another case, Mr Otieno and four others are accused of obtaining Ksh23 million ($203,183) from a Brazilian, Samir Entoro, for a consignment of gold. He was charged alongside Javier Runili, Philip Aroko, Roy Shirekuli and Ismail Shikanda Aballah.

One of the plaintiffs, Belgian Irvin van Lommen, recalled how he fell victim to Mr Munyinyi’s trickery, who has been charged with defrauding one Muhummet Murtoglu of $225,522 for delivery of a 360kg of gold in 2018.

Van Lommen, chief executive officer of Global invest Luxembourg S.A, said he arrived in Kampala with Muhummet, a business associate, in search of investment opportunities. According to court papers, between March 28 and April 12, 2018 at Wuyi Plaza along Galana road in Kilimani, Nairobi, Munyinyi fraudulently obtained $257,000 from Muhummet by pretending to be able to sell him the precious metal.

Van Lommen said during their stay in Kampala, they met with several businesspeople and some of them offered opportunities in gold exports. He returned to Europe but his associate, Muhummet remained in Kampala.

Sometime in March 2018, he said Muhummet called informing him that he had concluded a contract for exporting gold from a person known as Cyprian Kashindi through his company identified as Folk Moon, based in Kampala. They concluded the contract signing before an advocate in Kampala and were required to part with $241,000 for taxes that would arise for exporting the consignment. He transferred the money from Global Invest to the advocate for delivery of 200kg of gold.

But after he made the payment, the seller announced a change of plans, saying he had encountered a problem and could not export from Kampala so he would do it from Nairobi. He was referred to another advocate in Nairobi but on reaching the city, they were informed that more money was needed for clearance of the consignment. They smelt fraud and refused to part with more cash. During their stay in Nairobi, they were contacted by another “gold seller,” Samir Munyinyi and his associate, Anthony Kanga. The two allegedly offered to sell them 360kg of gold. This time, a lawyer would facilitate the contract.

In the new deal, the investors were required to pay $100,000 for export taxes while the lawyer would retain 5kg of gold as collateral. The investor said payments were done through a bank transfer from his company to the escrow account. They later discovered that the man claiming to be an advocate was an imposter. A few days later, the investor was allegedly informed that they needed an export licence, which required a further $100,000, which they paid, only to be told that the certificate had gone missing and more money was needed. It was then that they discovered they had been scammed and reported to Kilimani police station leading to the arrest of Munyinyi and his accomplice but Otieno, the fake lawyer, was nowhere to be found.

Mr Kobia, popularly known as Prezda, is fighting claims of obtaining $122,853 from an Italian, Antonio Gianni. Court documents show that he and his accomplices displayed metal boxes purporting to hold genuine gold bars. He also claimed that he was trading as Duaf International Ltd and Malva Amit Ltd, pretending that they were carrying out a genuine gold business.

Kobia and Tanya Yvonne Goes have denied a further charge of obtaining money by false pretences on April 25, 2019. He is also accused of possession of fake gold nuggets, smelting pots, metal tongs, X-ray fluorescence spectrometers, assorted rubber stamps and company seals all used to convince unsuspecting people that they were carrying out a genuine gold business.

The businessman is also accused of forging stamps from the National Treasury, Central Bank of Kenya, Director of Geological Survey, Ministry of Mining, Kenya Revenue Authority Customs and Excise duty department, Executive Office of Presidency Department of Procurement Nairobi and that of Registrar of Companies Kenya.

Nigerian Gideon Nika Gbaravopnu and his alleged Kenyan accomplice Seth Steve Okute have been charged with obtaining $171,994 from another Italian businessman, Lewis Ikenna, claiming they were in position to facilitate transfer of gold. Other gold fraud suspects are Innocent Muliro and Alexander Kirandakati alias Morgan Junior Jaggwe, a Ugandan, accused of obtaining $141,345 in fake gold deals, and Nigerian Yusuf Daniel Masara alias Dr Ibrahim Sacko, who was charged with obtaining $154,443 from a Alrais Ahmed Mohamed claiming he was in a position to help him buy 50kg of gold.

Check Also

Mali’s Loulo-Gounkoto deliver value to stakeholders

Seventeen years after it went into production, Barrick’s Loulo-Gounkoto mining complex in Mali continues to …