by Brian Ocharo The Nation
March 11th, 2023: The Jefwa brothers, who have been on Interpol’s “Red List” for involvement in ivory smuggling,and have been in exile for more than seven years, since disappearing in 2015, have resurfaced.
Nicholas Mweri Jefwa and Samuel Bakwri Jefwa have disclosed why they went into exile when a cargo they were contracted to clear at the Mombasa port was later seized in Thailand with 511 pieces of elephant tusks.
In court documents, signaling their return from exile, the Jefwa brothers have said they are now willing to submit themselves to Kenyan authorities and share their side of the story on what happened before the seizure in Thailand.
“But we fear our constitutional rights to liberty will be infringed on by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) , Directorate of Criminal Investigations, and Inspector General of Police, by holding us in custody until investigations are complete,” they said through their advocate, John Khaminwa.
The Jefwa brothers are directors of Potential Quality Supplies Ltd, a clearing and forwarding firm that deals in the importation and exportation of products inside and outside Kenya.
But why did they run away?
The Jefwa brothers have explained that in March 2015, while working at their clearing and forwarding firm, they received a tender from a client in Thailand, through businessman Sheikh Ahmed Abdulrahman, to facilitate the exportation of 30 tons of tea.
The consignment was to be parked in two portions: the first consignment was to have 200 bags holding 10 tons while the remaining 20 tons were to be parked in two containers.
They claim that they then appointed AIMAS company for bidding purposes as they did not have East Africa Tea Traders Association (EATTA) licence.
“We did not have full disclosure of the name of the client from Thailand because we were contracted by Mr Abdulrahman, who had knowledge of the client. We were just involved in the transaction as brokerage agents for clearing and forwarding,” they said.
According to the Jefwa brothers, they went through all processes and procedures of exportation at the Mombasa port until when the three containers carrying tea were cleared for delivery.
They have disclosed that the 30 tons of tea were packed into three different consignments. When this was done, the consignments were sealed and taken to Mr Abdulrahman’s yard by his driver pending certification of the shipment by the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA).
When the certificate was ready, the containers are said to have been brought back to the Mombasa Port, and the seals were intact upon scrutiny by the port management.
“Upon the departure of the ship from Mombasa port to Thailand, and before the delivery of the consignment, one of the containers was seized in Singapore by Interpol police after ivory was found inside the tea consignment,” they said.
They claim in their court document that before the two remaining containers were detained, they received a telephone call from Mr Abdulrahman informing them to transship them (containers), to Cambodia instead of Thailand to an unknown client.
Before the containers could reach Cambodia, they said that the cargo was seized and detained by the Interpol police for investigations. One of the cargo was found with ivory but they argued they could not comprehend how the ivory was found in the two containers.
“Due to shock, as we have never been involved in such illegal activities, we fled the country fearing arrest owing to the circumstances on how the ivory was transplanted into the tea consignment upon clearance at the Mombasa port,” they said.
Following this seizure in Thailand, Mr Abdulrahman and eight others were arrested and charged before the Mombasa court with smuggling 511 pieces of elephant tusks valued at more than Sh570 million.
Other suspects in the case are Mr Mahmoud Abdulrahman Sheikh, Sheikh Mahmoud Abdulrahman, KRA employee Lucy Muthoni Kahoto, Mr Musa Jacob Lithare, Mr Samuel Mbote Mundia, Mr Salim Juma, Mr Abbas Issa Rashid and Mr Kenneth Mwangi Njuguna.
They are charged with exporting 511 pieces of ivory weighing 3,127 kilograms to Thailand amongst other charges.
This case is still pending before Chief Magistrate Martha Mutuku.
But the Jefwa brothers said in their application before High Court Judge Ann Ong’injo that they are the most wanted suspects of the alleged crime, and that they have now surrendered and are willing to face trial.
While applying for anticipatory bail before the Judge, the Jefwa brothers lamented that they are no longer a flight risk, and are now willing to corporate with investigative authorities until charge(s) are preferred against them – if any.
“Our families have been terrified and humiliated by the police in order to produce or give our whereabouts when we were in our hiding places,” they said, adding that their business bank accounts have been frozen in a bid to compel them to surrender.
They have also disclosed that throughout their time in exile, the police have been arbitrarily summoning them through their families and in public on numerous occasions compelling them to appear before the DCI at an unspecified time.
“We have been subjected to psychological anguish and torture causing us unreasonable anxiety as a result of the arbitrary summoning. The continued actions of the police are unjustified hence we need protection from this court,” they said.
But the ODPP, DCI and the Inspector General of Police opposed this application, saying the Jefwa brothers are not suspects but accused persons in a case pending before the court.
“If the court is inclined to grant the orders as sought, this would amount to usurping the role of the trial court which under article 50 of the Constitution, would equally guarantee the applicants rights are protected,” said Senior Principal Prosecution counsel Vivian Kambaga.
Mr James Manyuru from the Economic and Commercial Crimes Unit of the DCI said the two are charged jointly together with Mr Mali Kahindi and Said Juma Said with dealing in wildlife trophies after they were involved in the processing of container number FCIU-5235796 which was seized in Thailand on April 25, 2015.
“From investigations so far conducted, the Jefwa brothers are also believed to have processed in the same manner two containers which were seized in Singapore containing ivory,” said the investigator.
He denied any documents were confiscated from the applicants or that the police have been harassing their families since there whereabouts have remained unknown.
“The police cannot be imputed to have threatened the Jefwa brothers with arrest whereas we had know knowledge of their whereabouts since they have been hiding since 2015,” the officer said,adding that they are a flight risk and should not be granted bail.
Justice Ong’injo, however, granted the applicants anticipatory bail of Sh500,000 each, with a directive that they present themselves before the DCI for statement recording pending further action from the DPP.
The state had linked the Jefwa brothers to notorious Liberian ivory poacher Moazu Kromah, who alongside others, are facing criminal charges of running an international criminal enterprise in the US.
The liberian was charged in Southern District of New York court alongside Senegalese Amara Cherif, Kenyans Mansur Surur and Abdi Ahmed.