Yesterday a British court ruled that Julian Assange cannot be extradited to the United States to face charges of
computer hacking and for publishing classified secret documents.
Some Kenyan commentators have all but claimed Julian Assange as one of their own on the basis that Kenya is where the Wikileaks story began and its founder propelled to international notoriety, where journalism and ‘journalistic ethics’ were supposedly ‘redefined in a digital age’.
The true story of Assange’s Kenya connection is far more problematic in terms of its outcome for journalistic standards and ethics.
WIKILEAKS REGISTERED IN NAIROBI
In October 2006 Wikileaks.org was registered in Nairobi under the name ‘John Shipton’, the name of Julian Assange’s father, the father he never met.
Wikileaks’ registered address in Kenya was given as ‘Nairobi, c/o WLK PO Box 8098-00200’, the same address as that for the Mars Group, ‘a leadership, governance, accountability and media watchdog’.
Mars Group Kenya was opened by Mwalimu Mati with his wife Jayne, in December 2006, partly funded by the UK’s Department for International Development.
THE KROLL REPORT
It was the part publication in August 2007 of a report by the international ‘risk consulting company’ Kroll that brought Wikileaks and its founder to fame.
In December 2003 Kroll had delivered a report into alleged high-level corruption in Kenya, commissioned by the Kenyan Government that had promised a break with past corruption,
A further ‘Consolidated Report’ was delivered to the Kenyan government in April 2004 but was not published at the time, although some details of the report appeared in the UK newspaper, the Observer, in March 2005, alleging that Ksh78 billion ($1 billion) in assets were held in London for leaders of President Moi’s regime.
For three-and-a-half years the delivery and content of the Kroll Report remained a secret. Only a handful of people knew of its existence, those who sat on the committee, and it seems, the US embassy and UK High Commission in Nairobi.
What was said to be Kroll’s ‘Consolidated Report’ was published in part via an anonymous ‘Wikileak’ on the Internet on 30 August, 2007, and the basis of the allegations in The Nation and the UK newspaper The Guardian, on 31 August 2007.
The Kroll report made specific and serious allegations of fraud against several individuals including former President Moi, his sons Gideon and Philip, and Nicholas Biwott, by then a former minister in the Government of Kenya but still a Member of Parliament.
None were interviewed, or given a chance to challenge the allegations made in the report.
Julian Assange referred to the Kroll Report as the “holy grail of Kenyan journalism” and later said that, “I went there [Kenya] in 2007 and got hold of it”.
In fact the Kroll Report was leaked to Mwalimu Mati at the Mars Group who said that “Someone dumped it on our laps”. Mars Group, in effect, published it via Wikileaks under the headline, ‘The missing Kenyan billions’.
The timing of the Kenya Kroll Report’s ‘publication’ was interesting, 100 days before Kenya’s presidential and parliamentary elections in 2007 and just three days after former President Moi and Biwott announced they were backing President Mwai Kibaki.
Kibaki’s main opponent in the election was Raila Odinga, who had sat on the ‘Cabinet Committee against Corruption’ that appointed Kroll.
Was it coincidence that the Kroll Report was leaked at a critical point in the run up to Kenya’s elections?
On Friday 31 August, 2007, a Wikileaks ‘spin doctor’, in reality Julian Assange, when asked why the report’s publication had been rushed, replied “Political timing”.
Assange later boasted that the leaking of the Kroll Report had “swung the election” by “shifting the vote 10 per cent” and thereby “changed the world”: maybe it did but ethical journalism it wasn’t.
KROLL REPORT – PAGES MISSING
It is clear that several pages from Kroll’s 2004 ‘Consolidated Report’ were removed before it was leaked and that the ‘Report’ as published is not complete. The missing pages have never been made public.
The allegations against several other individuals named in the Kroll Report had also been removed. The index refers to ‘targets’ 1, 2, 3, and 7, but the sections relating to targets 4, 5, and 6 were not published, which raises the question: who were Kroll’s targets 4, 5, and 6 and why were the allegations against them not published? Was that down to politics and “political timing” too?
KROLL REPORT – MULTIPLE ERRORS
The Report as leaked is also not a professionally competent piece of work, containing multiple errors and displaying a failure to undertake even basic due diligence.
Sources for the Kroll Report were not revealed, either given codenames – ‘Laundryman’, ‘Msamaha’ or ‘’Source A’ – or referred to as an ‘open source’ (i.e. the newspapers) and in many instances no source at all was cited.
The multiple failings of the Kroll Report displayed in its allegations against Nicholas Biwott provide telling examples and can be cited objectively because they cannot benefit him posthumously (Biwott died in July 2017).
The Kroll Report’s authors stated that Biwott, when ‘Minister of Communications’, had awarded a contract to ‘Team Simoco’ of which he was a shareholder. Biwott was never Minister of Communications and had no links with or a shareholding in Team Simoco.
Biwott, Kroll alleged, owned 40 per cent shares in Safaricom and likewise 40 per cent of Bank Belgolaise. A simple search of publicly available information would have proved that he did not.
Kroll also trotted out the hardy perennial that Biwott owned commercial property in Israel and Australia, and in particular a 10,000 hectare ranch in Australia (fake news that has often been spread in the Kenya press, Forbes magazine, embassy reports and on multiple websites).
Nicholas Biwott however had no commercial interest in either country. The assertion that he did originated from the unsupported hearsay testimony of one James Onyango K’Oyoo, now the Member of Parliament for Muhoroni. Why K’Oyoo made these unfounded allegations only he can say.
Kroll stated that a Horatius da Gama Rose was one of Biwott’s lawyers who ‘had been involved in questionable links’ and been given a ‘questionable contract’ by Kenya’s Treasury – but Kroll had got the wrong lawyer. Biwott’s lawyer was a Mirabeau da Gama Rose: same surname, different law firm, no question of wrong-doing.
TARA O’CONNOR AND DUDU ‘MARA MOON’ DOUGLAS HAMILTON
The Kenya Kroll Report was actually written by two young women, Tara O’Connor (aged 28) and a Dudu ‘Mara Moon’ Douglas-Hamilton (aged 24) and was in fact largely based on just two press reports carried in the East African Standard in April and May 2002.
When the Kroll Report was published the Kenyan government publicly stated that it could not act on it because it contained only rumour and gossip, and was incomplete and inaccurate. Government spokesman (now Governor of Machakos) Alfred Matua said, “We did not find that report was credible. It was based on a lot of hearsay”.
Kroll meanwhile immediately closed its East Africa office and refused to comment.
I want to stress, however, that Julian Assange remains innocent: he has not had a chance to challenge his accusers; allegations have been made against him but the facts have yet to be deduced; he has not been found guilty in a properly functioning court of law; and he remains innocent unless and until he is found guilty in law.
It’s a pity that such basic tenets of natural justice were not adhered to by Mr Assange, Wikileaks, Kroll, Mwalimu Mati, and US and UK diplomats.
This is an edited version of an article first published in The Star newspaper, Kenya