7 Most Elaborate Cons ever pulled off in Kenya by Foreigners

Written by | Listicles

The great gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson once said, “In a closed society where everybody’s guilty, the only crime is getting caught.In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.”

Wanjiku, the taxpayer who watches soap operas every evening and takes the 9 O’clock news for truth, expects elected leaders and the media to do due diligence and not be stupid and gullible. History shows that more often than not, they do exactly the opposite. Many of the cons were successful because we have a tendency to believe foreigners, and often approach interactions with them with ‘half-closed eyes).

#7 Lamine Diack’s ‘Son’

The (almost) Sucker: Maina Kamanda, then Minister for Sports
You are also forgiven for not knowing Lamine Diack, or why someone would masquerade as his son to swindle a cabinet minister. The would be sucker, then Sports Minister Maina Kamanda had a stroke of luck, and figured it out before he lost his money.

Do something, like call a Minister and say you are the Second Coming.
Do something, like call a Minister and say you are the Second Coming.

The Ruse
Imagine you are a cabinet minister and you receive a call from the head of an international sports organization claiming his son, Mohamed was carjacked and is now stranded Kenya. He needs more than Shs. 300k to become ‘un-carjacked.’

Chances to have the head of IAAF owe you one? Those do not come easily, do they? You can already sense the excitement as you call your bank to see whether they can loan you the money (you are a cabinet minister, of course you are broke, your over 900k salary a month notwithstanding). Kamanda later said “I…alerted my bank to see if they can lend me the 4,000 Euros.”

The taxpayer should be taxed for this scenarios, right? As an allowance for ‘international assistance, networking and asskissing.’ To make sure that whenever a political leader needs to do a favor, he has the necessary funds.

Sir, did you get a reimbursement for the Liddos part?
Sir, did you get a reimbursement for the Liddos part?

As your bank sorts out the money issue, you ask your secretary to call back Lamine so you can see ‘what more you can do for him.’ Get the son into Liddos, perhaps, because he might need striptease therapy after the carjacking? Only that this time, you are talking to the real Lamine Diack and he swears he knows nothing about a son in Mombasa or Kenya, probably calls your mother names and tells you to quit weed before hanging up on you.

You call the police, trick the guy and arrest him. Then you hold a press conference to express your dismay; underneath it all we know you are cursing the lost chance to be a sucker.

The confidence man who wanted the $5, 100? Nelson Banda, a Zambian national (and no, he is not, to the best of my knowledge, related to the former president).

#6 The Artur Brothers

The Sucker (s): The Kenyan media and public, and almost everyone in between
You have probably heard of this saga so much in the last nine years that you can recite it better than you can the second stanza of the national anthem. The two brothers with similar first names and weird last names, one with a full-time smug on his face that tells you he knows things you don’t.

This is a case of what Johnny Depp’s character in Dark Shadows describes as being ‘so overt it’s covert.’ It is the art of hiding by not hiding, being so much who everyone thinks you are that it can only be a lie. Its what Mike Sonko does by displaying such stupidity that we are just glad he wears clothes.

The Ruse?
It is still unclear what exactly the ruse here was, but we know the taxpayer footed most of the bill to keep these mercenaries in play.

It all started with the seizure of a 1.1 metric tonnes of cocaine haul in 2004 at the port of Mombasa that upset the drug business and triggered background power fights, and put the corruption machine into full gear.The Artur brothers were brought in as ‘investors’ and in private circles ‘security consultants’ (in a way, this is true, just not precise).

The smug look on their faces! Who shaves them anyway? Is there like a mercenary barber?
The smug look on their faces! Who shaves them anyway? Is there like a mercenary barber?

In 2005, Raila Odinga claimed that they were assassins brought in to kill him.
….before the Arturs said that they had in fact been hired by Raila and ODM to bankroll a regime change (wait, paid to pay for something? Okay…).

Actually, for the lazy reader who hates clicking on links, the main point there is that they ‘…met with Kalonzo and Raila who wanted US$41 million to support the ‘No’ referendum campaign in November 2005 to bring down the Kibaki government. They claimed they had loaned Raila $1.5 million in cash.

In 2010 they claimed that Kibaki knew about the Standard raid. Didn’t anyone give this people a job description? An entire bureaucracy and no one thought to at least think up a JD?

Like a good number of the entries on this list, they were accommodated at a five-star hotel in Nairobi (Which the taxpayer almost obviously paid for) before moving to ‘their’ Runda home (where they invited the same media they later raided-well, supposedly). Maybe they were the fangs of the rattle snake to which Michuki later alluded.

They were ‘assistant commissioners of police’ with state ‘protection’ (that we still paid for…happily… and just to show them, well, that we can afford mercenaries).

On the mercenary issue, one of Arturs (I was too lazy to check which one) said: “if we were mercenaries, Kenya could not afford us.” I don’t get these people, insulting our ‘national pride’ by claiming we do not have enough taxpayers and lenders to pay two mercenaries, we pay over 1, 900 of those already-we brand them ‘politicians’ though, it’s easier to spell.

In the end, no one even knew whether they were Armenian as claimed or Czech as claimed by the immigration ministry. For such an incompetent government, at least they got the Eastern Europe part right.

…Or even why we deported them to Dubai and not Armenia where they claimed to have hailed from.
That claim of an assassination threat? A claim that matches their recent appearance in Maldives just a few days after Mohammed Nasheed, the ousted leader, expressed similar fears.

Now Maldives is scared of falling for the same con job with the president even saying he doesn’t know how to pronounce the first name (Neither do we sir, we just think of how some people would read ‘A tool’ and take it from there. Catch up, ignorance is no excuse).

Then this press statement.

#5 The Woman who ‘sold’ International Life House

The Sucker (s): An MP, diplomats, top companies
The Ruse

Grace Aluma offered to sell International Life House and all of its 15 floors to a group of rich and powerful dudes who drive around Nairobi looking for buildings to buy. Her first pitch was that she was a uranium dealer with the American government, and that she had over $100 million to invest in Kenya.

Sold, to the stupidest bidder!Source www.netagecars.com
Sold, to the stupidest bidder!
Source www.netagecars.com

Granted, this was the age before the internet so it’s not like you could just Google-search a person and go through their Wikipedia page (stop opening a new tab, she doesn’t have one).

Grace, illiterate as she was, was most likely inspired by this guy, the con artist extraordinaire Lustig, who is known as the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower in 1925 (date is key; we don’t know how many other times it’s been sold, France loses many wars).

He became famous for this one act because of the sheer balls it took to ‘sell’ such an iconic piece of architecture and never be prosecuted it for it because the scrap metal dealers he swindled were too powerful to be embarrassed but not bright enough to not see the con. Granted, they were French so, doesn’t really count as a great con Lustig, resurrect, and try again!

Cool move Ondonga, now try sell the most notable piece of architecture in a country and you qualify as a pro...
Cool move Ondonga, now try sell the most notable piece of architecture in a country and you qualify as a pro…

Her most prominent suckers? Then Bahati MP Fred Omido, Dr. Victor Johnson (UN Consultant from Sierra Leone). She also collected money from Westland Motors (now Toyota Kenya), Swissair (defunct) and Kenya Commercial Bank. Of course, it makes sense for big companies to want to own buildings, the fact that the seller is illiterate being less important than the fact that its such a fair deal.

She and her accomplice, Dr Simon Ngoye Mulopwe were arrested in 1984. Omido was later accused by Charles Njonjo of helping Aluma escape.

Like Count Lustig’s ruse, the suckers are not named in the media reports, perhaps to save them from the embarrassment. For the simple fact that they are not French, this ruse took balls!

#4 The Queen of Sheba of the Nubian Empire

The Suckers: Government officials (of course), businessmen, Kamlesh Pattni (Someone got even for us? Have we feted them yet?)

If you Google the Queen of Sheba, you are more likely to land on more pages about the Queen of Sheba of the Nubian Empire, alias Debra Amelia Kasambura Nee George, than about the real sapiosexual who travelled to get some from King Solomon.

First, just because someone has a pompous title doesn’t mean she’s legit, okay rich and powerful guys? Especially if the title of her Kingdom ‘Ra Nubia-Sheba Imperial Queendom of Sheba Throne’ sounds like someone was trying too hard and couldn’t find time to edit out some kingdoms.

She claims to have
“… studied law [sic!], psychology [of course] and international marketing [explains everything]… practiced law while running a clothing and design business and also ran a consultancy firm.” (Because….superhuman!)…to have married Adam Sheikh Thabit Kasambura, the self-declared King of the Nubian Dynasty which, according to her, stretched to Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Egypt in 2001.’

How lucky were we, that one year later she decided to grace our capital city with her royal presence?

The Ruse
In March 2002 (everyone was confused between 2000 and 2003, it seems), she arrived in KE and commandeered the Presidential Suite at the Grand Regency Hotel (owned at the time by the one man who deserves a list of cons all to himself) for what she termed as a ‘working holiday’. Like good lapdogs, many senior government officials and businessmen advanced her goods and services … because, well, royalty!

She demanded special treatment and made government officials run at her beck and call organizing a meeting with President Moi and doing all things pertaining to ass-kissing. She raked up a Shs. 3.4 million bill at the hotel that included medical bills the hotel had paid for her when she fell ill.

This is not her, but who knows...
This is not her?.

Like all other entries on this list, this one thrived on the pathological greed of the Kenyan politician, civil servant, businessman, hotelier (I am resisting the urge to say society in general). Her carrot was a purported Shs. 15 billion she wanted to invest, and she was open to ideas because who wouldn’t believe a pitch for so much money with no ideas? For someone with so money, it would make sense that she hadn’t paid a coin, and never did, for the suite or the medical bills, wouldn’t it?

Why they should have seen it from the start?

First, as a country with a sizeable albeit marginalized Nubian community, Kenyans should have known, or at least even asked around, about the ‘Nubian Kingdom.’ Or even simply asked the Kenyan Nubian Council of Elders (it exists). Why, would a marginalized people have a queen with so much (purported) money?

Her ruse is now widely known, at least in crime-watch circles. Here the author says ‘She’s as much the Queen of Africa as I am the Prince of Wales‘ which points to her symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Like most of the individuals here, she was never charged although she was ‘arrested’. The authorities were, as this article puts it  “Mortified at the ease with which she had pulled her con” because you shouldn’t make a con look so easy that it would look silly on the charge sheet. Plus you conned Pattni, Kenya’s own Lustig, that should get you a Head of State Commendation or a spear of some sort, at least.

#3 Michael Otieno The Diamond Dealer

The Sucker (s): William Daniel Marrow, James Edward Harreland Jurgen Robert Ahlmann.

During a recent ‘Twitter war’ between Nigeria and Kenya, Team KE kept bringing up the issue of Scam 419, a legendary and infamous ‘internet scam’ where you get an email from a ‘distressed Nigerian prince or princess’ and it activates your Prince/Prince Charming buttons to rescue her by sending her your bank account details. It turns out we might have some shared history…

Disclaimer: This is only a hypothesis, the would-be sample population is not exactly forthcoming with data...
Disclaimer: This is only a hypothesis, the would-be sample population is not exactly forthcoming with data…

The Ruse
First, Michael Otieno was not really ‘Michael Otieno’, he was Augustine Azubuike Nwanga  alias Ahmed Suleiman. He and accomplices Johnson Chukweuemeka Obasi (stop! Don’t be lazy, read that middle name before we can continue),

….alias Suleiman Ahmed, and Felix Ibioma Anosike, alias Prince Felix (could this be him, the infamous one) carried out one of the most elaborate and detailed Scam 419s ever, right here in Kenya.
It all started when Nwanga contacted Marrow in September and told him of about a $9.5 million diamond investment in Kenya. One can see why that would be funny right now but these were different times, people thought Africa was full of diamonds.

After corresponding with Nwanga by e-mail (of course), Marrow decided to visit Kenya. He arrived Jan. 27 and was met at the airport by Nwanga and a woman- who is thought to have been his wife. The others arrived in Kenya on April 14 and were held for 10 days for a ransom of $200 000.
Ahlmann and Harrel said they came to Kenya to meet Nwanga and discuss shipping fish (of course, ‘fish’, is that what they call precious gems now?) to Europe.

He sent them plane tickets (always invest in a con, lesson number one in con school), and when they arrived April 14 they were taken to the house  in Golden Gate (how apt) estate  where Marrow was still being held. Marrow had been held for four months at the time, which leads one to suspect his family and friends didn’t like him much and might have already rented out his room.

The victims were chained hand and foot (Marrow claimed his private parts and legs were burned with cigarettes and candles) and fed bread, rice and tea, and sometimes Coca-Cola.

Coca Cola, feeding kidnapped people since...let me get back to you on this
Coca Cola, feeding kidnapped people since…let me get back to you on this

The men phoned their wives and requested the ransom payment (requested is the word used in that article, it sounds so pitiful, right?)

The Nigerian had lived in KE for 12 years at the time (Probably called Oti by his bar mates when he wasn’t busy burning someone’s balls with a candle), had a Kenyan family and worked in cosmetics.
Nwanga was lured to a Western Union office to pick up part of the money, but instead he was arrested  charged and convicted to a seven-year sentence. No mention of whether he was ever reimbursed for the plane tickets…

…and one of the victims, Harrel was later awarded for his stupidity- Okay, not really, he was given a letter of commendation ‘for surviving the ordeal.’

I don’t get why the ‘lawyer’ in this similar scam is writing in caps, does that make him look more legit? Someone should research on whether writing in caps makes you more believable. In that thread, when the swindler is ‘caught’ (the would be sucker’s financial advisor decided to Google, oh Google search, saving lives since 1996). The conman then goes like “You are just making false imagination against me” (How apt!)

#2 Dick Berg and the 4th All Africa Games

The Sucker (s): The Government, the media, and if you believe his side of the story, Henry Kosgey.
You are a third world country, you want funds for a continental tournament. You need money, hire first world consultants, right? Sounds logical, yes?

Okay, reverse back to 1987 and you are the Minister in charge of Culture and related shenanigans under President Moi, a scandal is in the offing, of course. The taxpayer doesn’t pay enough and as an elected leader, it is your duty to correct the situation you ensuring you oversee at least one scandal.

The Ruse

Dick Berg convinced the government that he could procure a Shs 10 billion loan yet there was no record of his work, nor did he own or run a financial company.

H. Kosgey, seen here not being duped by a foreigner.
H. Kosgey, seen here not being duped by a foreigner.

Berg, claimed he had marketed World Cup tournaments in South America and Europe, and even the Olympics. Granted, this was more than a few years before the internet and before Google became everyone’s best friend, but still, someone should have done due diligence. To look legit, Dick Berg ‘rented’ an entire floor at one of the five star hotels in the city-don’t be fooled, the taxpayer paid for that too. He promised to bring in top American artists at the time and, to show everyone he was legit (when someone tries too hard, something is brewing) he brought in Jermaine Jackson.

Jermaine, for the lethargic reader, is one of the less famous Jackson brothers, and given that this was at the height of the Jackson years, no one really knew any other Jackson other than the one with an undecided skin tone and the voice of a fetus. We must give him one for effort though, his hook was quite legitimate. Because the GOK runs on a system of trust, goodwill, faith, gambling and other such systems of probability, it paid him Shs. 22 million as a commitment fee then after he disappeared claimed that there was no money to renew the maintenance service for the presidential jet.

The man disappeared after placing only one advertisement in an international magazine. Henry Kosgey ‘launched a search for the man’. To date, nothing has been seen or heard of Berg, not that anyone ever expected him to be found. Which would not have been a problem if the entire floor mentioned earlier, and the Jermaine Jackson trip, were not all funded by the Kenyan taxpayer (US $2.6 million). On the bright side, at least they got a Jackson to visit, any Jackson was good enough, right? The bigger crime here is believing a man with a name that describes the entire male organ, okay, only one of the two ‘Bergs.’

The Dick Berg hoax was such a successful (although not new, Lustig had done it too before) con job, and elaborate that it has copycats in Uganda.

#1 Ato Lemma Ayanu Hiyeyi

The Sucker (s): Everyone, including ‘his’ wife and son.
In 2002, the new government felt the way people feel when they finally lose their virginity, as if they can take over the world one screw at a time (a 40-year old virgin? There was no way we could botch this…). One of the first acts of government in 2002/3 was to decriminalize the Mau Mau, (Yes, for 40 years since independence the group had still been proscribed, Kenyatta the Elder had first ignored it, then everyone seemed to simply forget the same guys who had fought for their freedom…)

The Ruse

Like our virgin at the beginning of this analogy, the over-excited government sort to unscrew every screw of being largely unscrewed for four decades. Anyone who goes on such a rampage is bound to kiss a few frogs, right? The frog in this case was Lemma Ayanu, you everyday grandfather…or, if you were the suckers we call political and media bigwigs, General Mathenge.

Lemma, seen here not pretending to be General Mathenge.
Lemma, seen here not pretending to be General Mathenge.

It all started with Joseph Karimi, a journalist for the East African Standard in 2000 who wrote that Mathenge had been found in Ethiopia. The man who found him, a George Milimo said he had met ‘an old man who had more than usual interest in Kenya and the goings-on there.’ The only qualifications needed to be a long-lost freedom fighter? Milimo said Lemma Ayanu answered in the affirmative when he (Milimo) inquired if he was the general in question. In court we call that a leading question, a question that has the expected answer in it…

Milimo claimed that Ayanu had regaled him with tales of his exploits in the liberation war and that he (Ayanu) was keen on visiting Kenya again, albeit briefly…it seems he had other things to do rather than tell us how he fought for our independence and disappeared before we could neglect him too.
The media fell for the story!

The Standard paid for Mathenge’s wife and son to go Ethiopia. Karimi reported that his wife had positively ID’d him sayingthis is the man. The nose and set of teeth are his‘  (a wife would know her man’s teeth and nose at least, right? Even if she was senile and had not seen her husband for more than four decades). Even Mau Mau (spell check thinks the second Mau is unnecessary) war veterans who met him at the airport claimed he was the one, never mind that most of them were already in their 70s and 80s and senile.

So the NARC government did the only sensible thing and through ‘his MP, the President of Kenya’, sent him an invitation for the Madaraka day celebrations in 2003. Ayanu, who died in 2010, brought Kenya to a standstill, and was accorded state security, high-class accommodation and celebrity status. He had been found, he was old and he was frail, and he was good PR. There was no way this could have gone wrong, right?

Everyone believed the government had found, and returned, General Mathenge– a commander in the Mau Mau independence movement. He fled Kenya in 1956 after the nominal leader of the movement, Dedan Kimathi, who is thought to have usurped power from the uneducated but experienced Mathenge was captured and executed by the British colonial power. He had the rank of general bestowed on him after he returned from service in Burma in the Second World War. He and 28 other fighters fled to Ethiopia, with the hope of getting support there, but they never returned. “
They need not have waited four years for the DNA results to tell them Lemma was not Mathenge. The man couldn’t speak any of the national languages, and even said he knew nothing of the Mau (he called it that, he probably thought we said the second ‘Mau’ because we were retarded, seems my spellcheck agrees)… Or the fact that the man who recruited Mathenge  into Mau Mau (Harkman Muiruri) cast doubt the moment he saw the man.

There was also the age issue, when Mathenge escaped in the 1950s, he was 37 and would therefore have been 84; Ayanu was 72 at the time. Other issues included the fact that he didn’t know ‘his’ code (Mau Mau used codes in the forest) nor was he tall (he was shorter by at least a foot) and had a gap, or a scar on his nape… He also admitted he knew nothing of the Mau Mau [“I have no idea what Mau is as I was not involved in the liberation struggle] which raises doubt that some of these stories of his ‘excitement and anticipation’ were either lies on mistranslations. Well, most are misunderstood, some are mistranslated.

Ayanu owned huge chunks of land in Ethiopia. “…Sellassie offered Mathenge Ethiopian citizenship along with a 1000-acre farm, an offer the Kenyan accepted after marrying an Ethiopian woman. ” This just sounds like a weak redoing of the Shashamane story (Jamaicans, Rastafarians etc etc).

Karimi was nominated for CNN’s African Journalist of the year Award in 2000 but later disqualified because of issues surrounding authenticity. He had shielded journalists from interviewing the man-argued that he wanted to hide his Ethiopian identity. Some claim he might have been too embedded in the narrative and “… became  a participant in the developing saga.”

. Once it was clear it was a hoax, and possibly a con, it made international headlines. Appearing in The EconomistNewswire and the BBC. Some saw somewhat of a silver lining in it (optimists, such ready suckers!) and some saw lessonsIt was one of the few times that the government accepted it had been conned. A moment to be relished, although I suspect it’s because the taxpayer didn’t want to look bad for judging the government for paying bills for an old man anyway. The trick, dear reader, is to never get caught, and if you must, make it so big that everyone will be embarrassed about it and they will just let you go, or elect you to Parliament.

Owaahh 2013

Last modified: February 21, 2023