The Iranian ambassador to Kenya is caught up in a criminal investigation over a daring plot to free two terror suspects from police custody, with the potential to trigger a diplomatic row.
On Friday, detectives from the Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DCI) arrested two suspects alleged to have defrauded ambassador Hadi Farajvand of an unknown amount of money after introducing themselves as senior Interior ministry officials who could secure the release of Iranian nationals Ahmad Abolfathi Mohammed and Sayed Mansour Mousavi who are in police custody pending a decision by the Supreme Court on whether to release them or not.
Police are investigating Mr Wesley Kiptanui Kipkemoi and Mr Shemgrant Agyei for their alleged role in the elaborate plan straight out of a spy movie. The two, who are spending the weekend in police custody after being questioned by DCI detectives, are likely to be taken to court Monday.
Police sources allege the ambassador had been looking for high-level contacts in government who could help him to illegally secure the release of Mr Mohammed and Mr Mousavi and smuggle them out of Kenya. Security sources suspect the two Iranian nationals are members of the Quds Force — an elite unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard that carries out covert foreign missions, including terror attacks.
In the saga that has been going on since 2012, the two claimed they had come to the country as tourists when they were arrested. They were, however, linked to a lethal explosive identified as RDX and were accused of planning a terror attack. A Nairobi court sentenced them to life imprisonment.
The sentence was later reduced to 15-years in jail, after they appealed at the High Court. When they moved to the Court of Appeal, three judges quashed the sentence and set them free. But the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) moved to the Supreme Court to challenge their release with the judges allowing the police to hold the suspects until a decision is made on their fate.
The police believe it is this determination to secure their release that intensified efforts to find other ways to have them freed from custody and flown back to Iran.
The investigators are keen to find out Mr Kipkemoi’s role, with indications being that he had offered to work together with a senior Interior ministry official who would help secure the release.
This man, it is alleged, was Mr Agyei, a Ghanaian national.
It is not clear what plan they purportedly sold to Mr Farajvand or how much he paid them but what is apparent is that the Iranian ambassador was so confident the two terror suspects would somehow be freed from custody that on February 8 he went to an airline office on Riverside Drive, alongside an aide, to book three tickets — his, Mr Mohammed’s and Mr Mousavi’s — to leave Nairobi through the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
CCTV images obtained by the investigators showed him walking in and out of the booking office. But things fell apart after Mr Farajvand apparently realised there was no such plan and cancelled the tickets.
Detectives say he also contacted government officials to enquire about the two individuals he had been dealing with. That was when DCI was alerted and started the investigation that led to the arrest of Mr Kipkemoi and Mr Agyei.
On Saturday, head of the Anti Terrorism Police Unit Munga Nyale confirmed that investigations were ongoing but declined to comment further. He, however, maintained that the suspects were well secured.
“We suspect these are high-profile operatives in their country and that is why there could be efforts to secure their release by all means. But they are in our custody in strict accordance with court orders and there is no cause for alarm,” said Mr Nyale.
DPP Noordin Haji said he was “deeply concerned” about the allegations that were being investigated on plans to unlawfully release the suspects from custody.
“This is unacceptable and a clear attempt to subvert the course of justice and the rule of law. I intend to notify the Supreme Court about the latest developments because the two are now a flight risk. There may be need to review the conditions in which they are held,” he said.
The DPP said the two suspects will be taken to court but he will also write to Kenya’s Foreign Affairs ministry to summon the ambassador, who enjoys diplomatic immunity, for an explanation.
But sources at the Foreign ministry, who spoke in confidence, said Mr Farajvand had indicated he had been contacted by impersonators who he now wanted arrested.
No decision had been reached but, in such situations, the ambassador is usually summoned or the host country demands a recall, depending on the gravity of the situation.
At the DCI, Mr Kipkemoi is said to have admitted he was introduced to the ambassador in June 2018 by a friend but denied defrauding him.He claimed the ambassador was initially more keen on business opportunities in South Sudan.
The envoy is alleged to have later brought up the issue of freeing the two Iranians but Mr Kipkemoi, in his account to the police, said his role was to introduce them to a man he described as a businessman and wheeler-dealer (Mr Agyei).
After his arrest of Friday, Mr Agyei is said to have admitted meeting Mr Kipkemoi and the ambassador.
Last June, an Interpol report claimed Iranian officials had been attempted to compromise key government employees and the criminal justice system to have the two released.
The Islamic republic is facing damaging sanctions from the US government but has always maintained it is being unfairly targeted.
On the allegations facing Mr Mohammed and Mr Mousavi — who have been in and out of court since 2012 —the DPP first convinced a bench of five judges to allow the police to detain the Iranians, pending the hearing of the appeal.
The judges said since there is no extradition agreement between Kenya and Iran, it would be difficult to get them back after repatriation.
“In the circumstances, we allow the application for stay of execution of the respondents’ acquittal and repatriation,” the Judges said.
They said the intended appeal involves a matter of general public importance and accordingly, granted the DPP leave to appeal against the acquittal.
The two Iranians had been set free in January last year with the court stating that there was no sufficient evidence to link them to the bomb making material recovered in Mombasa in 2012.
At the Supreme Court, the DPP through lawyer Waweru Gatonye said the two Iranians led the police to the spot where the RDX explosives were discovered. He urged the Supreme Court to allow the appeal and quash the acquittal of the suspects by the Court of Appeal.
In opposing the appeal, the Iranians through Ahmednasir Abdullahi argued that the appeal is frivolous and based on shaky ground.
Justices David Maraga, Mohammed Ibrahim, Jackton Ojwang’, Njoki Ndung’u, Smokin Wanjala and Isaac Lenaola said they will deliver the decision on notice, meaning there is no definite date but the parties will be alerted.
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