Youth Fund’s Sh180m trial: Puzzle of 5 deaths

As Youth Fund case ends, deaths of some parties remain a puzzle

Even as the Youth Enterprise Development Fund graft case ends, the puzzle of the mysterious deaths of five people, two of whom were officials of the parastatal, remains unsolved.

Businessman Mukuria Ngamau was this week sentenced to seven years in prison, fined Sh720 million and told to refund the Sh180 million stolen from the fund.

While appearing before a parliamentary committee in 2016, Mr Ngamau told the lawmakers that Mr Collin Reeves, who was purportedly the lead consultant of the project, died on April 1, 2015, before he (Reeves) could receive his cut. Mr Ngamau told members of the Public Investment Committee (PIC) that “he was still trying to trace the deceased’s next of kin to transfer Sh115 million owed to him.”

But the businessman got into trouble with the MPs because he had initially claimed that he was in contact with Mr Reeves who resided in Michigan, USA. At some point, the Committee also expressed doubts about the identity and existence of Mr Reeves.

“The witness failed to provide Mr Reeve’s physical address or phone contacts, Skype extracts and evidence of payment to Mr. Reeves,” the PIC report reads. “Further, the Curriculum Vitae of one Donnie Collins Reeves was found to be unclear, vague and ambiguous with inconsistent information.”

However, Ms Lucy Kiruthu, who testified on behalf of the Principal Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, indicated that Mr Donnie Collins Reeves indeed died on April 1, 2015 at age 61.

“The deceased was an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) specialist at Enterprise Electronics Corporations (since 1989) and a data processing manager at Enterprise Electronics Corporation,” she added.

Youth Fund scam

The PIC investigation exposed the extent of the Youth Fund scam, leading to investigations and prosecution of top officials the MPs accused of orchestrating theft of public funds. These were CEO Catherine Namuye and board chairman Bruce Odhiambo, who died in puzzling circumstances in the course of the trial which started in August 2016.

Other mysterious deaths include that of a lady lawyer who was one of the defence counsels. She was found dead in her house in Kileleshwa, Nairobi in October 2017. In the same month, Ms Namuye collapsed and died at her home, also in Kileleshwa. A post-mortem examination revealed that the cause of death was a heart attack. The two deaths were about two weeks apart.

Mr Simon Mwangi Gathika, a driver at the parastatal, drowned in a pool as investigations into the scandal gathered space. The 33-year-old was found dead in a swimming pool on October 19, 2015 in Mombasa. He mostly chauffeured Ms Namuye.

In January 2019, the fund’s board Chairman Bruce Odhiambo died while undergoing treatment at the Nairobi Hospital. He also suffered a heart attack, six months after he travelled to India for treatment for a heart-related condition.

Mr Ngamau met Ms Namuye sometime in early May 2014 at an event hosted by the fund. She informed him that the parastatal was looking for someone to help it come up with an Information communication technology (ICT) strategy. She also told him the board wanted an ERP system to enable them transform the parastatal into a modern institution.

After the meeting, he contacted an ICT and ERP specialist, Mr Reeves, and agreed to put forward a proposal for the work. On May 20, 2014, Mr Ngamau held a meeting with Ms Namuye and Mr Reeves via Skype to understand the requirements of the parastatal.

His company, Quorandum Ltd, was given the contract based on forged contract documents for provision of ICT consultancy services for ERP. The PIC found the contract was a fraudulent scheme crafted with the sole intention of defrauding the public as no services were rendered.

The money was paid to Quorandum through its accounts held at Chase bank after Ms Namuye made herself the sole signatory of the fund’s bank account.

PIC reviewed Quorandum’s bank statements from Chase Bank and Standard Chartered Bank and found no evidence of payment of a sum of Sh115 million to Mr Reeves as was initially alleged by Mr Ngamau. In court, Mr Ngamau admitted that his company received the money.

Mr Ngamau used the proceeds from the fraudulent transactions to purchase a house in Lavington, Nairobi. The Assets Recovery Agency, in 2018, obtained an order to recover the property registered as duplex apartment number C16 at Duchess Park Apartments along Hatheru Road.

An analysis of Quorandum’s bank statements further showed that the stolen cash was also used for various suspicious transactions. In particular, approximately Sh91.6 million was transferred to Quorandum’s Standard Chartered account and thereafter used to pay various third parties, including Mr Bruce Dominic Odhiambo.

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