Court met with chaotic scenes at Africa Spirits factory

Broken bottles, safes and CCTV cameras was the scene that greeted court officials visiting a firm associated with businessman Humphrey Kariuki in Thika on Friday.

Kariuki is facing tax evasion charges, accused of failing to pay Sh41 billion in remittances. 

Kariuki is out on Sh15 million bail and has denied the charges. 

 

The visit to Africa Spirits Limited and Wow Beverages Company was led by Nairobi chief magistrate Francis Andayi.

It was prompted by reports of theft and tampering of evidence.

The court established Kenya Revenue Authority seals were missing and found broken boxes and beer bottles as well as damaged electrical switches.

Three safes had been broken into and emptied of their contents. Computers, TV sets and drums of ethanol were missing.

The server room had been broken into and machines vandalised; CCTV cameras were smashed.

Reports had indicated that alcohol and ethanol worth Sh2 billion had disappeared from the firm.

Police raided the premises on January 31, 2019, and confiscated 22,000 litres of ethanol suspected to be from Tanzania that was stored in 80 drums. Also seized were about 21 million counterfeit excise stamps.

The factory was shut, declared a crime scene and put under 24-hour state surveillance.

On Friday, defence lawyers pointed out water bottles with 2020 manufacture dates in rooms that were supposedly sealed from last year. 

In one of the warehouses, identified as A, it was established that a KRA Customs seal that had been used to secure the doors was missing.

The doors to the warehouse had been welded shut, but it was unclear when this was done.

Lawyers Cecil Miller and Kioko Kilukumi, who are representing Kariuki, complained that they had not been supplied with an inventory, which would help determine if the scene had been tampered with.

They demanded to know from the prosecution and investigating officer whether the scene was as it was on January 31, 2019.

The court was informed that there were five warehouses in the premises.

The defence raised issue with the welding shut of the doors, terming it an interference with the crime scene.

The investigating officer told the court that all doors to the warehouses had been welded shut. The doors had to be cut open for the court to gain access.

The defence lawyers sought to know on whose instructions the welding was done and whether KRA had consent.

The prosecution did not respond and left the investigating officer. But the court said it would only take note whether there were seals or not, and would leave further probing to cross-examination.

It was at warehouse A where an officer died and suspected theft took place in August last year.

The defence lawyers asked whether the officer was in a warehouse that had been sealed.

On August 31, 2019, an Administration Police officer who was allegedly drunk on duty died at the facility. Police denied that he was drunk and said he had tripped on the stairs and was pronounced dead on arrival at Thika Level 5 Hospital.

The court made its first public visit to the factory on Tuesday to ascertain the state of the premises.

Three directors of African Spirits Company have also been charged with tax evasion alongside Kariuki.

Kepha Githinji Gakure, Robert Thinji Murithi and Peter Njenga Kuria are accused of failing to remit Sh36.5 billion to KRA.

They have denied the charges and are out on Sh11 million bail each.

Established in 2004, Africa Spirits Limited produces brandy, gin and vodka.

Some of its brands include Legend Gold Brandy, Blue Moon Vodka, Blue Moon Vodka flavours (apple, mango & ginger), Gypsy King Gin and the Furaha Range.

This article was written by The Star on 24th July 2020.