Goldenberg ‘fall guy’ who loved books, music and money dies


Photo|FILE The late Wilfred Koinange.

Sometime in January 2009, Goldenberg suspect Wilfred Karuga Koinange — who died on Monday — walked us past his empty car yard in Kiambaa where two rotting tractors, a broken down lorry, and other vehicle shells lay.

Apart from a water bottling plant – he bottled the Broomhill Springs water brand – there was little other economic activity in the expansive farm.

Down the undulating hill lay a spring, which Dr Koinange protected as his last source of income. “It is the only naturally carbonated spring in Kenya,” he said.

Ever since he was accused of stealing Sh5.8 billion via the Goldenberg scheme – a fictitious mineral compensation that was hatched by Kamlesh Pattni – the former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance had retreated into the farm with well-trimmed cypress hedges.

“I usually come to this house for solace,” he said.

The house, a colonial bungalow with aging terracotta tiles and polished wooden floor, has a backyard with a round hut. “I can spend my day there reading books and listening to music.”

Dr Koinange cut the image of a lonely man and this was no longer his family home. His well stocked library had many interesting biographies – including retired president Daniel arap Moi’s The Making of an African Statesman by Andrew Morton.

“Do I look like a person who swindled the country billions of shillings?” he asked.

Unknown to many, Koinange was a history buff. He had one of the best collections of history books and rare colonial documents.

He was also a great collector of African music and plants that dot his farm. Each flower type, he told us, had a history, and each tree told a different story.

Koinange loved to sing too – and would mellow when asked something historical: But not on the Goldenberg scandal and the tribulations he was going through.

“This case has exhausted me,” he told us long before he pleaded to the courts to give him a defence lawyer.

Dr Koinange was angry that after all those years in government service, he was left fighting to clear his name over the theft of billions of shillings via a signature he had appended. In his court papers, he told the Commission of Inquiry investigating the matter that he was commanded by the then President Moi to do so.

He told the Bosire commission: “I telephoned the president and told him I have been informed by Prof Phillip Mbithi that I should pay out all the amount outstanding to Goldenberg International and the President said yes, I have spoken to Prof Mbithi.”

Koinange signed the three letters on April 19, June 28 and July 8, all in 1993.

Mr Moi, through his lawyer Mutula Kilonzo, denied ever ordering Dr Koinange to make the payments.
“I am writing a book that will tell the story,” he told us at the time.

Dr Koinange died yesterday without telling his side of the story.

During the Goldenberg hearing, he acknowledged the illegality of his actions.

He was at the Treasury at the wrong time. A man who had no knowledge of the workings of the Ministry of Finance, he had been catapulted from being Director of Medical Services (1979 – 1987) to PS in the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology before being moved to the Treasury.

His death has left many unanswered questions on his role in this fictitious export compensation project that saw mandarins behind the scam milk Sh5.8 billion from CBK coffers.

Because he could not understand the inside workings of Treasury, senior officials at the Treasury, including his co-accused, the late Eliphaz Riungu, a former Central Bank deputy governor, would cook figures on foreign exchange to impress both the World Bank and IMF on the government performance.

When Riungu was asked by the Justice Bosire Commission why he did that he would simply say: “We were cornering the IMF, we were being cleverer than them.”

Was Dr Koinange part of this syndicate? Perhaps.

During the Goldenberg hearing, it emerged that Dr Koinange had sought the CBK Governors word on the payments. He told the Commission that indeed it was the then CBK Governor, Eric Kotut who authored the infamous authorization letter. Mr Kotut denied this on oath.

The Justice Bosire Commission appeared to absolve President Moi from blame which left Dr Koinange holding the smoking gun: “There is no clear evidence that the President asked for money to be paid which was in fact due to Pattni or Goldenberg International and it would certainly have been possible for Dr Koinange to tell the President that the money was not due.”

[Justice Bosire was found unsuitable to be in the judiciary for failing to summon senior government officials, including President Moi who had been adversely mentioned during the sittings.]

“There was no legal claim to the money, in the manner in which it was paid out….Dr Koinange purported to rely on a letter from Customs which cannot be interpreted to be a statement that any money was actually due,” said the Goldenberg report which recommended Dr Koinange’s prosecution.

“The PS Treasury Dr Koinange, the Governor and his Deputy Mr Riungu were personally responsible for this (loss). He and the Governor of CBK, among others both in Treasury and CBK, were the economic managers….if as he says a decision was reached to pay out in a discreet manner it is only fair that they bear the responsibility for the illegal payments.”

That haunted Dr Koinange for long. He hired good lawyers. Kept tabs on his case and never missed a mention. He looked weathered in court appearances as his co-accused succumbed to cancer.

With his resources dwindling and his frantic efforts to clear his name coming a cropper, Dr Koinange died with a huge burden.

“My main worry is that my name will forever be tarnished…I am not a thief” I recall him saying.

We went to his father’s grave, where the notables of the Chief Koinange wa Mbiyu’s family were buried, took photos and left.

Only one man knows whether Dr Koinange was innocent: Former President Moi.

Did he make the call that changed Dr Koinange’s life?
[email protected]