“You have to start with the truth. The truth is the only way that we can get anywhere. Because decision-making that is based upon lies or ignorance can’t lead to a good conclusion”.
Thus was Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder, whistle blower and transparency campaigner, often quoted (from a much earlier interview) at the time of his ejection from the Ecuador’s embassy in London where he had lived in exile for the last seven years.
ASSANGE WIKILEAKS STORY BEGINS IN KENYA
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 ‘redefined in a digital age’.
The true story of Assange’s Kenya connection is less than transparent however, and the outcomes far more problematic in terms of journalistic standards and ethics.
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’, and like Wikileaks an internet based organisation.
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). Mati had worked for Transparency International Group (Kenya) but left after he was ‘sacked’ in June 2006.
WIKILEAKS AND THE KENYA KROLL REPORT
In January 2007 Wikileaks launched themselves on to the international stage via the ‘World Social Forum’ held in Nairobi. It was however 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, suggesting that Ksh78 billion ($1 billion) 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 even 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. The basis of the allegations contained in it were also published 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 Daniel arap Moi, his sons Gideon and Philip, and Nicholas Biwott a former minister in the Government of Kenya, a leading businessman in Kenya, and at that time still a Member of the Kenyan Parliament.
None were interviewed, or given a chance to challenge the allegations made in the report.
According to reports published in The Guardian, (31 August 2007), ‘The document is believed to have been leaked by a senior government official upset about Mr Kibaki’s failure to tackle corruption and by his alliance with Mr. Moi, Kenya’s former President, before the presidential election in December 2007.
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’.
KROLL REPORT ‘POLITICAL’
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 in the forthcoming elections.
Kibaki’s main opponent in the election was Raila Odinga, who in turn had sat on the ‘Cabinet Committee against Corruption’ that appointed Kroll and supervised the drafting of the Kroll Report.
‘Early in 2003’, wrote Odinga, ‘a representative of the internationally renowned risk advisory firm Kroll was introduced to me in London. I invited him to Nairobi and introduced him to the Secretary of the Cabinet Committee against Corruption, John Githongo’.
The Kroll Report quickly became a central theme of Raila Odinga’s and his party’s campaign.
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”.
At least there was transparency, the whole truth was out and justice had been served: well no, not entirely.
Wikileaks’ partial publication of the Kroll Report did not mark a new age in ethical journalism in the digital age: it could have done if ethics and professional journalistic standards had been adhered to.
Professional, ethical journalists check their facts and ask for a response from their ‘targets’ before publication. They do not spread disinformation for publicity or political purposes. That is not journalism, it’s propaganda, or what we now call “fake news”.
KROLL REPORT – MISSING PAGES, MISSING NAMES
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 “political timing” too?
Calls for the circumstances of the report’s commissioning, its terms of reference and for the full cost of the ‘Kroll Report’ to be revealed, have never been met.
The Report as leaked is also not a professionally competent piece of work, containing multiple errors, displaying a failure to undertake even basic due diligence, and written in a lax, sometimes almost colloquial style, not seen in other Kroll reports.
Sources for the Kroll Report were not revealed, either given code names – ‘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.
KROLL GETS IT WRONG
The multiple failings of the Kroll Report displayed in its allegations against former KANU Minister and Moi acolyte 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 Simico’ 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. A simple search of publicly available information would have proved that he did not. As it would have shown too that he held no shares in Bank Belgolaise in which Biwott supposedly held 40 per cent, or ‘solely’, but with which in fact he had no links.
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 given at the 1991 Ouko Inquiry 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 also alleged 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 had no links with a Horatious da Gama Rose, his lawyer was a Mirabeau da Gama Rose: same surname, different law firms, no question of wrong-doing.
KROLL REPORT NOT CREDIBLE
The Kenya Kroll Report was actually written by two young women, Tara O’Connor (then aged 28) and a Dudu ‘Mara Moon’ Douglas-Hamilton (then aged 24) and was in fact largely based on just two press reports carried in the East African Standard in April and May 2002. Quite how much it cost the Kenyan tax payer is not known.
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, incomplete and inaccurate.
Government spokesman (and 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 after the publication of the document and refused to comment.
Nine years later in 2016, Kroll’s senior consultant for Africa, Mark Simmonds, announced that the corporate investigators were considering setting up again in Kenya, an “exciting and dynamic” market (not to mention “lucrative” if you can get paid for bashing out a report based on a couple of regurgitated press reports, unattributed and unsupported hearsay testimony, and some gossip).
Mr Simmonds, however, also admitted that Kroll had only been able to complete “25 per cent of the work” at the time of the drafting of their original Kenya Kroll Report but he declined to say more, ‘citing strict confidentiality rules’.
Julian Assange is not now wanted on Ecuadorian soil. He is however wanted in the UK (skipping bail), the United States (computer hacking) and Sweden (sexual assault and rape).
I want to stress, however, that Julian Assange is innocent. He is innocent because he has not had a chance to challenge his accusers. He is innocent because allegations have been made against him but the facts have yet to be deduced. He is innocent because 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. You have to start with the truth.
[This is an edited article that first appeared in The Star]