Having been invited to Kenya by the Moi government in February 1990 to investigate the death of Dr Robert Ouko, Kenya’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Detective Superintendent John Troon who headed the Scotland Yard team, delivered his ‘Final Report’ in August 1990. The report wasn’t made public at the time but it was read out in full a year later at the Gicheru Commission Inquiry and its contents widely reported in the press.
Troon’s ‘Final Report’ is one of the ten reports and investigations used to form the basis of the Kenya Human Rights Commission’s (KHRC) report ‘Lest We Forget: The Faces of Impunity in Kenya’.
That the KHRC should have included Troon’s ‘Final Report’ in the Lest We Forget paper is not in question. That they did so without questioning its reasoning and the conclusions it reached set against what we now know, the Forum does find questionable.
Why was Robert Ouko murdered? John Troon’s theories
To be fair, Troon’s task was not an easy one. He had few firm facts to go on and little in the way of reliable eye witness testimony to support what he did have. In the absence of factual evidence on which to build a case, Troon instead came up with theories as to the possible motives for Dr Ouko’s murder.
Troon’s first theory was that there had been a row between Dr Ouko and others during a visit by a delegation of 83 Ministers and government officials led by President Moi to attend a ‘Prayer Breakfast’ in Washington between January 28 and February 4, 1990. The theory held that Dr Ouko had met with President Bush Snr, Moi had not, and that this had led to a row with Nicholas Biwott, then the Minister of Energy who was part of the delegation.
The second of Troon’s theories was that there had been a major dispute between Ouko and other members of the cabinet over the cancellation of a project to build a molasses plant in Kisumu (in Dr Ouko’s constituency). Thirdly, it was suggested that Dr Ouko was preparing a report on high level political corruption in the Kenyan government arising out of the Kisumu Molasses Project and that he was killed in order to silence him.
Let us examine some facts, many known in 1990 and 1991, and others that have since come to light and all of which Mr Troon now knows and the Kenyan Human Rights Commission (KHRC) should know.
Murder of Robert Ouko: some inconvenient facts
As readers of the Forum will know from our last posting (‘KHRC report: Gor Sungu paper’s inclusion undermines report‘) no meeting took place between President Bush Snr and Dr Ouko during the ‘Washington Trip’.
Just to recap, official records (released by Bush’s library), President Bush’s lawyer and the US State Department confirmed that no such meeting took place; no member of the Kenyan delegation (a delegation that included Bethuel Kiplagat, then the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who, in this video, refutes these claims) was aware of any such meeting; the Kenyan Ambassador to Washington released a detailed statement that also said Bush and Ouko did not meet; and the Kenyan police found that ‘There is no evidence to confirm that Dr Ouko while in Washington met President Bush’. Records do establish, however, that Presidents Bush and Moi did meet, if only for a brief photo session.
Troon choose instead to believe Dr Ouko’s brother Barrack Mbajah from whom the ‘Washington row’ allegation derived. Barrack had not been on the trip but he said he heard the story from a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official who in turn had not been with the delegation to Washington and denied having said there was a row.
Troon should have known this in 1990 but he ignored all of the testimony to the contrary and did not consult US authorities either in Nairobi (he could have just contacted the US Embassy) or the USA to verify what happened during the ‘Washington trip’. Troon did accept that the “factual basis” for allegations of a row in Washington were “somewhat tenuous” and based on “hearsay” but he seems to have preferred one man’s fiction over fact.
Sticky situation: the Molasses Plant theory
Troon’s second theory that there had been a major dispute between Dr Ouko and other cabinet members, particularly Biwott and Saitoti, over the revival of the Kisumu Molasses project just does not stand up. The process and timescale by and over which decisions were taken to halt the Kisumu Molasses project would also seem to make it an unlikely motive for the murder of Dr Ouko in 1990.
All decisions relating to rehabilitation of the Molasses Project were taken collectively, and it seems unanimously, by the Kenyan Cabinet. The decision to abandon the project was taken in 1988 by the then Minister for Industry, Dalmas Otieno, nearly one-and-a-half years before Ouko’s murder. Biwott had no official role in the project from November 1987, over two years before the murder and, anyway, seems to have supported the Kisumu Molasses project, or at the least voted for it in cabinet, throughout.
Troon should have also known all of this but he again ignored testimony contrary to his theory, notably the testimony of Dalmas Otieno and did not read, or even ask to see, the Kenyan Government ‘Molasses File’ that recorded details of how, when and by whom decisions were taken.
Accusations of corruption
Troon’s third theory, that an alternative bid for the Molasses Project was championed by some cabinet ministers who asked for ‘kickbacks’, and ultimately that in order to suppress a report on high level corruption written by Dr Ouko he was murdered, also does not bear scrutiny.
The two Italian companies ultimately put forward for the project were both part of the same multinational group (as Dorothy Randiak, Dr Ouko’s sister admitted under cross-examination) and they were both introduced by a Domenico Airaghi from the ‘BAK Group’ (of which more later), not by Biwott, Saitoti or anyone else from the Kenyan side.
So where was the rival tender? And why would a company to be asked for, or pay, a bribe to win a tender against itself?
If in February 1990, Dr Ouko was writing a report to President Moi exposing corruption involving the revival of the Kisumu Molasses project he was doing so nearly two years after it had been cancelled by Dalmas Otieno (again the timing is all wrong) and supposedly writing it to the man, Moi, who had chaired the cabinet meetings that discussed and agreed each step in the Molasses project.
No report on corruption written by Dr Ouko has ever been discovered and only one person said it existed: a Marriane Briner-Mattern, Airaghi’s partner in the ‘BAK Group’ (of which, again, more in a minute).
Robert Ouko threatened
Critically, Troon obviously never read the two letters that Briner-Mattern said she sent to Dr Ouko just before his murder. If he had done, Troon would have seen that they threaten Ouko about revealing to Moi his involvement with corruption surrounding the Kisumu Molasses project at the time of the 1988 election, not Biwott, Saitoti, or anyone else.
Troon didn’t read or even ask for the relevant files and he didn’t believe Dalmas Otieno. So who did Detective Superintendent John Troon of Scotland Yard believe?
Briner-Mattern, Airachi, BAK: “Truthful”, “Honest” and “Reliable”?
Troon’s theories were based almost entirely on the testimony of a Mr Domenico Airaghi and a Ms Marianne Briner-Mattern, the two directors of BAK International, a Swiss-based company that had tendered to Dr Ouko when Minister for Industry to help re-start the Molasses Project in Kisumu. Crucially, Troon relied on their testimony because of his assessment that they were, “truthful and honest witnesses” under “a reputable company”.
We now know, Troon knows, and the KHRC should know, that throughout the entire period he was dealing with the Kenyan Government and Scotland Yard, Dominico Airaghi was on bail having been convicted in March 1987 in the Civil and Criminal Court of Milan on charges of corruption and attempted extortion.
The court found that Airaghi had presented false evidence and faked documents in an attempt to establish his defence. The judge remarked on the “particularly despicable nature of the offence” and described Airaghi as having displayed “the attributes of an International Fortune Hunter”. In April 1991, Airgahi’s conviction was upheld on appeal and he was sentenced to two years and six months in prison and fined 2,000,000 Lire.
A Marianne Briner who described herself as a “secretary” of “International Escort” an “employment agency” gave evidence in his defence. The judge said of Marianne Briner, “who lived with Airgahi”, that it would better to draw a “compassionate veil” over her testimony and commented on her “unreliability” as a witness.
‘BAK’ a fake
The use of four different names for ‘BAK’ and two addresses in three years, and Dalmas Otieno’s evidence that ‘BAK’ was ultimately excluded from the Molasses Project because it was incompetent and in breach of contract, should have alerted Troon that it may not have been a “reputable company”.
There’s more. Only one of these four BAK entities was formally incorporated as a company (so Airaghi and Briner-Mattern weren’t ‘directors’ of anything). ‘BAK Group Marianne and Partner’ was registered for the first time as a joint partnership on 13 February, 1990, the day that Dr Robert Ouko was murdered. Thereafter, Briner Mattern and Airaghi’s claim for compensation from the Kenyan Government rose from $150,000 to $5,975,000.
Troon should have known these facts in 1990 but he had made no inquiries into the backgrounds of Airaghi and Briner-Mattern, nor of the company that they claimed to represent. He appears not to have made a single enquiry of the Italian Embassy. He did not even interview Airaghi whose evidence conflicted with Briner-Mattern’s, leaving that task to a subordinate and did not read Airaghi’s diaries because, “a lot of his entries are in Italian which I can’t understand”.
That Airaghi and Briner-Mattern’s testimony didn’t match up Troon seems not to have noticed, he certainly never seems to have sought to find out why. At no point did Troon seem to challenge their testimony, or ask why it was that they, on there testimony, were both prepared to offer bribes.
Exit John Troon
Troon gave evidence to the Gicheru Commission Inquiry into Dr Ouko’s murder in November 1991 during which he admitted that Briner-Mattern’s and Airaghi’s testimony were virtually the sole basis for his theories and that in its absence he had no case. He had to admit too that Dr Ouko’s brother Barrack Mbajah had lied to him.
Troon left the Inquiry during cross-examination saying he had to attend urgent family business. He did not return.
Troon’s three theories and the basis for them have been utterly discredited by incontrovertible facts. He undoubtedly faced a difficult investigation made more difficult by obstructionism but for over twenty-one years Kenyans have been left chasing shadows and Dr Ouko’s killers allowed to go free, largely because of Troon’s fatally flawed investigation and report.
All of the facts relating to the murder of Dr Ouko referred to in this posting have been known, and have been in the public domain, since at least 2004. Most have been known since 1991.
John Troon has questions to answer arising from those facts. The KHRC too has questions to answer as to why they included Troon’s ‘Final Report’ in Lest We Forget without qualifying its findings in the light of that knowledge.
In this article, we have considered the flaws of John Troon’s investigation as it relates to the Kenyan Human Rights Commission’s report. If the murder of Robert Ouko is of interest to you, we suggest you read our article entitled ‘Murder of Robert Ouko: what really happened’.