Foreign woman, Kenyans linked to Sh2.3bn overseas card fraud

Frozen money concept. FILE PHOTO | NMG

A woman from the southeast Asian nation of Laos with the backing of four Kenyans has been linked to an estimated Sh2.3 billion ($19.48 million) that investigators at the Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) believe are proceeds of a debit card fraud by an international crime syndicate.

The billions of shillings held in two accounts at Ecobank under the company name Kiwipay Kenya Limited whose directors are the Laotian and the four Kenyans have been frozen by the High Court, pending the filing of a petition to have the money forfeited to the government.

The ARA says in its application that Kiwipay Kenya Limited was registered on June 3, 2020, with Ms Monthida Rashi from Laos and Kenyans Stephen Njenga Maina, Felix Rantuu Lekishe, Solomon Joseph Maina and Robert Lemerketo.

The latest records from the company registry seen by the Business Daily show that the majority of shares are owned by Kiwipay PTE Ltd, a firm from Singapore. Mr Lemerketo’s name doesn’t appear on the current official records held at the registrar of companies.

The company says it offers digital payment services such as QR Code solutions for retail shops, hotels and restaurants by enabling foreign e-wallet solutions such as Alipay, SamsungPay, ApplePay, WeChatPay and more.

Business Daily is yet to establish whether the company is related to a firm with a similar name registered in Laos, which offers the same services.

Justice Esther Maina has prohibited the company and its directors from withdrawing or transferring the funds for 90 days as the ARA probes the source of the billions.

“That preservation orders be and are hereby issued prohibiting the respondent (KiwiPay), its employees, agents, servants or any other persons acting on their behalf from transacting, transferring or dealing with the funds specified,” the judge directed.

The money was initially frozen by a magistrate’s court in May for 45 days but the owners pleaded with the court and were allowed to withdraw Sh15 million on June 7.

The agency moved to the High Court, pointing out that the freeze order was due to expire on June 27.

“That there is an imminent risk that the funds held in the specified bank accounts in the sum of $19.4 million may be withdrawn, transferred and or dissipated if the preservation orders are not granted and this would greatly prejudice the ongoing investigations into money laundering and the tracing, identification and recovery of proceeds of crime,” the agency said.

Senior State counsel Stephen Githinji said in the application that there is suspicion that the company is involved in credit or debit card fraud and part of an international syndicate.

“That preliminary investigations have established that the respondent were involved in an intricate money-laundering scheme designed to conceal, disguise the nature, source and disposition of the illicit funds, suspected to constitute proceeds of crime and which are the subject matter of this application,” Mr Githinji said.

The directors Stephen Njenga Maina, Felix Rantuu Lekishe and Solomon Joseph Maina Karimoni each have 2,900 shares. Ms Rashi owns 8,000 while the other Kenyan, Robert Lemerketo, owns 23,300 shares, making him the largest shareholder.

Kenya has in recent years become a hotbed of suspicious transactions by foreigners conspiring with locals, pointing to weak anti-money laundering laws and lapses.

This latest freeze comes just two months after the agency was granted orders blocking four people, among them two Nigerians from withdrawing Sh5.6 billion allegedly linked to a money-laundering scheme.

The billions of shillings in six bank accounts in Equity Bank and UBA Bank were frozen by the High Court after the assets agency applied to block the transfer or removal of the funds, pending the filing of a petition to forfeit the money to the government.

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