Crime in a time of Money and Power

Why do powerful people get away with crime?

It was a simple plan possibly hatched the moment the two cars, enjoined in a screeching dance of death, came to a stop. The man of God jumped out and ran, and a car in his unofficial entourage became the getaway car. What followed, in under two hours, was a cover up that completely ignored that a life had been lost. It didn’t matter really, at least not to a man with the right connections, a mass of followers, and lots of cash. It was another case of crime in a time of power and corruption.

The curious case of Pastor Ng’ang’a, a charismatic and eloquent (in some languages) man with what qualifies as a mega church empire, is simply another case in an ever turning wheel of justice that only crushes the poor. It led to the finding of another case of vehicular manslaughter, by another city pastor. He didn’t run, but money changed hands and the bereaved were left to mourn their dead. In a system where a man was charged, and jailed, with stealing free newspapers, the only crime is poverty. Poverty not only shackles you to the bottom of society’s barrel but it also denies you a critical tool in dodging justice.

Powerful people escaping justice in Kenya is not new. In fact, it seems as if the entire system has evolved to facilitate exactly that. Two ongoing cases reveal as much. In one case, former Nominated MP Betty Tett was summoned by the police in December 2014 on suspicion of conspiracy to murder. The quarry was a business rival, Andrew White, and would be assassin was a rather greedy John Wachira Linus. In at least all the initial reports, the police had a rather solid case against Tett, a former legislator with a motherly, disarming charm. The motivation was business.  One of her most capable managers at Supersonic Sound had also left to join Andrew’s Fat Rain Film. She had the means, at least monetary, and access to someone to do the dirty deed. 

At Wachira’s arraignment, the prosecution laid out an intricate but rather careless plot. Tett knew Wachira from her earlier days as a legislator. She had sought to hire his services and paid a million bob deposit to get Andrew White killed. The investigators produced text messages and money transfer records, a rather clear trail of evidence, sent from Betty Tett to her would-be assassin. Only he wanted more. He visited his quarry’s home, not to stalk him but to demand more money from him. He got arrested the next day, and confessed to being a hired gun for an unsuccessful murder plot.

It seemed rather clear, at least at first, that investigators had a solid case against Wachira and Betty Tett. What happened in the following months though, was a case all too familiar. In March 2015, Andrew White’s lawyer complained of a conspiracy to save her. Both Betty’s and Wachira’s names had appeared on the initial charge sheet. Her charge sheet was pulled out for unexplained reasons, and has never been added back. Wachira recanted his confession at around the same time, claiming he had been tortured. With the charge sheet also disappeared the bank statement, motorcycle details and the arresting officer’s statement. Even the compromising phone messages which had three months earlier made the case seem so straightforward were edited.

Around the same time the Betty Tett case was crumbling like a house of cards, another one against a prominent person emerged. Imenti Central MP Gideon Mwiti, a man with a controversial past in pyramid schemes, was accused of raping a woman he had lured into his office. The case, probably one of the few of that nature to make it to the news, was rather unfamiliar in a system that is built to protect the aggressor. According to the victim, the MP had held her in his office as he waited for a HIV/AIDs test his doctor and conspirator had carried out. She ran and locked herself in a toilet in his office and texted her husband. Then the MP brought the door down and forced her back into the office where he assaulted and raped her. A month later, the prosecution asked the court to cancel his bail because he was intimidating witnesses.

It seemed as if, for once, the system was working right, protecting the victim and getting justice. The case has now been suspended to solve another he has filed challenging the legality of his prosecution. The ship that once seemed to be running for justice has shown an early leak that will most likely grow into a technicality, and eventually sink it.

The main reasons why powerful people seem to always get away with crime are money and connections. Money always play a key role, especially in a system so infected with corruption that it no longer recognizes itself. Cash changes hands fast and quietly, and phone calls and orders from other powers demand the ship be sunk as fast as possible. Most of the time, as is clear in the Betty Tett case, its not even meant to be a clean job. The idea is that as people gain power, money and connections, they become immune to prosecution, and jail.

A good example of just what this recipe can do is an old, famous case. On a hot October afternoon in 1952, a Ford Consul blocked a black Hudson Saloon on a thin, rough road in Gachie. A tall man exited the Consul, walked towards the Hudson, and shot into the back left window. His quarry was tall colonial administrator in his early sixties, Senior Chief Waruhiu. Three men were charged with the murder, a shop owner called Gathuku Migwi, a taxi driver called Waweru Kamundia, and a would-be politician named Mbiyu Koinange. Migwi and Kamundia were working class men without much of a family name or wealth to themselves. The Koinange name, on the other hand, was already a powerful name evoking wealth and patronage. The senior Koinange, himself charged with a lesser crime, was the previous occupant of the seat Waruhiu held when he was shot.

At the trial, the Koinange family shipped in an experienced lawyer from London to defend father and son. They were both eventually acquitted. Kamundia and Migwi ended up hanging for the crime despite a spirited defence by a well-meaning but outmatched lawyer. The defences were separated with Mbiyu Koinange being defended by Dingle Foot, QC, and a legal team with other experienced lawyers such as Dudley Thompson from Jamaica. The other two men were defended by Jaswant Singh from the local bar.

Despite what initially seemed like a strong case against at least Mbiyu, only he was acquitted of the murder charge. He lived while the other two, despite clear evidence of torture, coercion and shoddy investigations, were hanged. You probably now know Mbiyu as one of the founding fathers of the nation, the first Senator of Kiambu. You probably had never heard about Kamundia or Migwi.

In the six decades since, it seems the powerful elite, whether in politics or social functions such as religion, have only consolidated power even more. There’s little semblance of a justice system for all anymore, unless the elite are the victims. Where they are the clear aggressors, the system’s inbuilt failsafe mechanisms come into play.

Investigators are quickly compromised and with ruthless efficiency, witnesses either disappear or recant their testimonies. Evidence disappears or is tampered with, and prosecutions are left with nothing to hold on to. This has happened at almost all levels, including the ICC. The game at the top is for an elite few who traverse politics, social and economic systems, and those who have the luck of knowing them or being related to them. It has always been, perhaps since man first started organising into social groups, but it doesn’t have to remain that way. 

The Ng’ang’a case pitted a relentless media with nothing to lose against a member of that powerful elite. At first, the good man of the cloak saw no reason to fight the reports from anywhere but the comfort of his pulpit. Meanwhile, the media, both mainstream and online, pressured the head of police to get some justice for a grieving father and daughter. It worked, or at least seems to have worked. The big lesson is that perhaps the system can work against the powerful elite. The secret is for a tired populace with enough balls to demand justice. What follows is then the patience and resolve to see it through. The Betty Tett and Gideon Mwiti cases show the perils that face seeking justice in a time when money and power have insulated the powerful elite. It needs to stop.

Owaahh, 2015.

One story is good,

till Another is told.