The Kenya Forum brings you tales of murder, fraud, corruption, yet more corruption, sex in high places, sex in low places, of attempted rape and death threats, so unbelievable that they have of course, therefore, been accepted and proclaimed as the gospel truth by many Kenyans and used by unscrupulous politicians and some so-called ‘civil society’ activists to further their objectives.
The multiple accusations and changing testimonies over many years relating to the murder of Kenya’s Foreign Minister Dr Robert Ouko in 1990 of one Marianne Briner-Mattern, a Swiss-Italian former air hostess, a one-time ‘secretary’ of ‘International Escorts’, and supposedly a director of ‘BAK’, a company involved with the Kisumu Molasses Project, have all been proven to be totally untrue and were in most instances obviously utter fabrications and fantasies. So why was she accepted as a ‘star witness’ in the Ouko murder saga?
Briner-Mattern however, is a mzungu and her stories were believed by wazungu: that is where it all began.
Ms Marianne Briner-Mattern, or Marianne Briner as she sometimes called herself, and business partner, Domenico Airaghi, were, or claimed to be, directors of ‘BAK International’, a company based in Switzerland who were introduced to Dr Ouko in 1987 when he was Minister for Industry and subsequently persuaded him that they were experts in molasses and that they could arrange international funding (from Italy) for the development of the Kisumu Molasses plant in his Kisumu constituency.
Many of you will know the story and therefore there is no need to go into it in detail other than to summarise that Briner-Mattern and Ariaghi did not come up with the money and proved not to be experts at anything other than fraud, such that in 1988 the by then Minister of Industry, Dalmas Otieno, cancelled the project and thereafter had Airaghi thrown out of the country.
It of course did not end there. Two years later, following the murder of Dr Robert Ouko on 13 February, 1990, and some seven weeks into the investigation by a team of detectives and forensic experts from Scotland Yard, Briner-Mattern’s testimony was to change the whole course of their enquiries and Kenyan history.
BUFFOON OF THE YARD
Det. Supt. John Troon “Buffoon of the Yard?”
The ‘Interim Report’ into Ouko’s murder, drafted by the head of the Scotland Yard team, Detective Superintendent John ‘Interim Report’ submitted in July 1990 takes up the story.
Troon stated that, ‘On Saturday 17 March my colleague Detective Sergeant Lindsay received a telephone call to meet a person in the Imperial Hotel, Kisumu. Lindsay attended the venue and there met a person who identified himself as Professor Thomas A. Ogada, the Kenyan Ambassador to Switzerland’, and that, ‘Prof. Ogada informed Lindsay that he had been directed by His Excellency the President to hand over to the Scotland Yard Officers a sealed envelope which he had brought with him from Switzerland. In addition to the envelope, Prof. Ogada supplied details of two contacts in relation to the contents, one being Mrs Briner Mattern, the other being her advocate in Kenya Mr Frank Addly of Kaplan and Stratton Advocates, Nairobi’.
Troon went on to interview Briner-Mattern five days later on the 22 March and from this and her file he pieced together a theory, Briner-Mattern’s theory, that Prof. Saitoti, Elijah Mwangale, Abraham Kiptanui and Nicholas Biwott had asked for bribes to allow the Kisumu Molasses project to go ahead, not in person but through a Mr Mohamed Aslam, Chairman of Pan African Bank.
Briner-Mattern claimed, and Troon believed her, that as the bribes were not paid Biwott and others championed an alternative bid for the project.
Briner-Mattern added to these allegations, and again Troon believed her, a claim that she had written to Dr Ouko and spoken to him on the phone just before he was murdered, and that he was preparing a ‘corruption report’ in the bribery allegations. It was to stop this report getting out, she claimed, that Ouko was murdered.
Troon swallowed the Briner-Mattern story hook, line and sinker. He did so, he told the Gicheru Commission a year later, because he assessed Briner-Mattern and Airaghi as “truthful” and “honest”, and that they ran a “reputable” company that was “well known in East Africa”, all of which he “accepted at face value”.
Troon admitted that Briner-Mattern’s and Airaghi’s testimony was “somewhat tenuous” and based on “hearsay”. Troon also admitted that the “complexities of loaning money is not my sphere” but still he accepted their allegations a,s “this is what I have been told by the witnesses” [Briner-Mattern and Airaghi].
Troon however, did not interview Domenico Airaghi, he left that to one of his colleagues, nor did he really read Airgahi’s diaries as “a lot of the entries are in Italian which I can’t understand”.
Nor did Troon contact the Italian authorities to check whether the Briner-Mattern an Airaghi story could be substantiated, indeed he seems to have made no attempt to check into their background at all. He also failed to read the Kenyan Government’s ‘Molasses File’ which would have helped him to cross-reference their story. He just believed them.
All of this might have been alright if Briner-Mattern and Airaghi had been telling the truth but they weren’t.
Briner-Mattern’s testimony did not match Airaghi’s, or some of the documents they claimed backed up their story, and both were at odds with the evidence from other sources.
If Troon had checked with the Kenyan, Italian and US authorities he would have found out, as Dr Ouko’s sister admitted under cross-examination, that the Italian companies bidding for the Kisumu Molasses Project were both introduced by Domenico Airaghi and not by Biwott. They were also part of the same multi-national group. So where was the fraud.
SO WHO WERE THE CRIMINALS?
Had Detective Superintendent John Troon bothered to check any of the ‘facts’ he would have found, as was later to be proven beyond doubt, that Airaghi was a convicted criminal on bail from a court in Milan on 14 April 1987 having been found guilty of fraud and, in effect, demand money with menaces. He would also have found out that one Marianne Briner was Airaghi’s side-kick and the principal witness in his defence, a witness the judge described as “unreliable”.
If Troon had looked more deeply into Airaghi’s trial he would have found out that he, and Briner-Mattern, had been blackmailers, who threatened their victim with exposure and used forged documents to defend themselves.
A few simple checks, surely not beyond the mighty Scotland Yard, would have proven, as it subsequently has been, that their company “BAK International’ didn’t really exist until it was finally registered as a company in Switzerland on 13 February, 1990, the day of Ouko’s murder, and that there was no record of it trading successfully anywhere in East Africa.
So, hardly “honest” people, or “truthful”, and BAK could not be described as a “reputable” company: but Troon believed them.
TROON’S BIGGEST FAILING? THE ‘CORRUPTION REPORT’
These were not Troon’s only failings and perhaps not the biggest. The biggest arose from Troon’s failure to read or understand the letters that Mariane Briner-Mattern said she sent to Dr Ouko just before his murder.
Briner-Mattern told Troon, and handed him copies of the alleged letters, that she had written to Dr Ouko in Kenya on 29 January and 5 February, 1990. It was these letters, and alleged phone calls between Briner-Mattern and Ouko that gave birth to the ‘corruption report’ allegation, the ‘report’ that Troon said could have been a motive for his murder.
BRINER-MATTERN THREATENS DR ROBERT OUKO
There was however, a big problem with the ‘corruption report’ story. If Troon had read Briner-Mattern’s letters he would have seen that they do not threaten Saitoti, Mwangale, Kiptanui, Biwott or Aslam… they were a direct threat to expose Dr Robert Ouko.
In the letter supposedly sent by Briner-Mattern on 29 January, she threatened to tell all about the employment of ‘workers’ at the Kisumu Molasses plant during the 1988 elections who were in fact campaigners for Dr Ouko.
Briner-Mattern tells Ouko in the letter that ‘the reason for your non-involvement in our defence could be found when checking the employment of the 50 workers’ and that part of the money paid had also been used to pay ‘Youthwingers’. She went on: ‘You remember that your cousin Ouko Reru had a signature in the Commercial Bank of Kenya’.
The threat was developed in the next paragraph. ‘Since it is possible that H.E. will approach you after it seems he finally received the letter sent to him by me originally in March 1988 [in which Briner-Mattern says she detailed the allegations of fraud], I herewith enclose a copy for your knowledge and enabling you to prepare your defence’.
Then she turned the knife. ‘I strongly believe that you have the courage to say the truth, at least I regard you as a man who can admit a mistake without losing pride’.
Later Briner-Mattern wrote: ‘If you need more papers for your defence… please let me know’.
In the next letter, which Briner-Mattern claimed she sent to Ouko on 5 February, 1990, she wrote: ‘I was glad to hear – after a first shock – you agreed with us that it is better to finally having the opportunity to say the truth’.
Then, ominously, she let fly: ‘We have never understood why you did not defend your point in this case: It was you who arranged and signed all the agreements. It is you area and it is also your political future which they destroy. And – last but not least – it is also your personal credibility not only to yourself, but to the people of Kisumu who have believed you – and also to your President, since I believe that he is cheated the same like you (sorry – but you know my frankness when saying the truth – and I only say this because I feel sorry for you and for him)’.
Troon admitted that there was no evidence that the Briner-Mattern letters had ever been sent. He admitted too that there was no evidence that Briner-Mattern and Ouko had spoken on the phone the week before he died but he told the Gicheru Commission, “I can only rely on what she says concerning the letters”.
From this was born the myth of the ‘corruption report’.
Only Briner-Mattern ever alleged that there was a corruption report. No report was ever found. Briner-Mattern never produced supporting documentation. She told the Gor Sunguh Parliamentary Committee investigation that she had had supporting documents but that they had been stolen in Tanzania and taken out to sea.
Twenty-two years later Briner-Mattern’s lies still cloud the search for truth over the murder of Dr Ouko. She never faced cross-examination and in fact refused to do so.
After Ouko’s murder Briner-Mattern’s claims for compensation from the Kenyan government rose from $150,000 to $5.975 million.
‘A single Caucasian hair… found loosely associated’ with Dr Ouko’s handkerchief when his body was found has never been DNA tested. Troon said it could just have been ‘site contamination’.
*Referred to in Raila Odinga’s autobiography ‘the Flame of Freedom’ as ‘Brenda Brimmer-Martens’ (Book ‘written with Sarah Elderkin’).