If rogue officers at the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) are to be believed, Mariam Omar Mwakituko rose from the dead and imported heavy commercial vehicles.
Were it not for the confounding grand fraud executed by the wayward officers at NTSA Mariam would probably never have been known beyond her home area in Msambweni, Kwale County.
Other Government agencies are also likely to be helping perpetrate the multi-billion shilling scam by using bogus identities such as the dead mother of four.
Mariam was buried on August 30, 2014 – a day after her death at Alfarooq Hospital. However, to the shock of members of her family, she is listed as a major importer of vehicles and knock-down car parts.
She is also the registered owner and operator of three commercial trucks, suspected to have been illegally assembled. Yet she lived in near destitution with her Imam husband, Swaleh Rashid.
It was only by accident that her younger brother, Omar, chanced upon the information as he sought to sell land registered in her name to clear the hospital bill she had accumulated. Paying for the transfer of the ownership documents to the buyer through the Government’s revenue portal revealed her ‘immense wealth’.
Among the properties she supposedly owned, according to Government records, are 13-tonne Isuzu truck and Toyota matatu registered in 2015 and 2016.“I was shocked to find out that someone was using my sister’s identity to execute fraud,” Omar said.
Alfarooq Hospital only released Mariam’s body after the family surrendered their title deed, a pointer to the financial strain her illness caused.
Mariam’s is among many fictitious identities used by actual importers to execute the complex web of fraud involving billions of shillings and thousands of vehicles – mostly heavy trucks sold as pre-owned.
There are concerns her identity might have been used even before her death. Documents in our possession show several transactions years after her burial at Mwembeni Muslim Cemetery.
It is these imports, some destined for neighbouring countries, that are reassembled and registered in the NTSA system before they are sold to unsuspecting buyers.
Last week, an official of the Kenya Revenue Authority ordered the impounding of four truckloads of spare parts that have since been established to be complete vehicles that have only been broken up.
Mariam’s case offers a rare peek into the operations of rogue NTSA officers in abetting high-level crimes including tax evasion – as is the case with multiple car registration plates.
Several top NTSA officials have been charged with colluding with criminals to produce fake vehicle registration plates, with a prominent case being the hatchback driven by the terrorists who attacked the dusitD2 hotel.
At the heart of the scam are at least two foreigners whose names and nationalities we withhold pending possible arrest. The two were said to be the masterminds of the racket with roots in China.
A need to lessen pollution through heavy emissions means vehicles are condemned while still serviceable by Kenyan standards, under which the age limit for imports is eight years.
A whistle-blower who spoke to The Standard gave a detailed account of the steps that follow the retiring of the vehicles, starting with stripping of usable parts.
“After seven years, he came to Kenya in 2016 and opened an assembly plant in Thika and immediately started bringing in all types of trucks in parts to the same yard he builds bodies,” said the source.
Before 2016, the vehicle parts were sold to other assemblers, suggesting the scam could have continued for years undetected.In the case of the architects of this fraud, commercial vehicles are acquired for dismantling before the log books are surrendered to authorities.
The parts are then shipped in containers to Mombasa where conniving Government officials help in clearing them, which attracts minimal duty compared to importation of complete vehicles.
Unlike complete vehicles, whose value is easily verifiable for payment of customs dues, it is quite complex to assess the worth of individual parts, hence providing an additional incentive to cheat.
Typically, it is the discretion of the cargo clearing officials to determine if declared value of the imported vehicle parts is fair.
The Standard established that two of the several re-assembling yards, in nondescript but highly secured locations, are in Kayole, Nairobi, and Thika.
In the compounds are hundreds of heavy commercial vehicle engines and gearboxes, among other parts.
To an ordinary eye, the yards are garages for fabricating truck and bus bodies while in essence they are complete assembling plants.
Police have secured two sites in an operation at the weekend.
So complex is the scam that the assemblers have financing arrangements with select lenders. What is puzzling is how the architects of the fraud get registration plates and details of the vehicles on the NTSA portal. And it appears officials of the safety and vehicles registration agency are in the complex conspiracy of tax avoidance and aiding the underground vehicle assembly business.
At the Thika yard, there were dozens of new registration plates of the current series, including the KCS and KCT ranges, waiting to be fixed on the trucks under assembly.
There are concerns also about the safety of the vehicles considering that their manufacturing are not supervised and might not necessarily meet standards. Many buyers, our source said, have lost their trucks to lenders, explaining in part the hundreds of vehicles up for auction every week.
NTSA promised to issue a comprehensive response to the damning findings today.