Recently, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations’ Banking Fraud Investigations unit said it’s looking for two fugitives – Alfred Wangai Mundia and Mercy Nkatha Karimi. The two have an outstanding warrant of arrest issued by Kiambu Chief Magistrates Court on January 15, 2021. TV47 Digital went down memory lane and retrieved the case file of one of Kenya’s boldest and most daring cases of fraud.
He did not look anything near a multi-millionaire. Tall and waif-thin, and dressed in a jacket that spilled from his shoulders, Alfred Wangai Mundia resembled a long-beaked bird caught in a sack.
It was May, 16, 2016. He was standing in the dock at Kiambu Law Courts, flanked by his wife and erstwhile business partner Mercy Nkatha Karimi. A few moons earlier – October 2013 to September 2014 to be precise -, he had allegedly collected over KSh182.5 million from investors eager for a pie of his grandiose-sounding company VIPortal INC.
From his office in Limuru, a farmers’ town known for donkeys, Bata shoes, and a chill that bites at the bone and comes back for the marrow, Wangai convinced investors that he also had branches in the Caribbean country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The exact address was given as “Griffith Corporate Centre, Beachmont, Kingston.”
His business was Forex trading and foreign stocks. In his LinkedIn profile, he bragged that VIPortal INC was “responsible for Online Forex Trading Regulations in Kenya and commercialization and Formation of its Curriculum.” Wangai told investors that if they put in at least KSh25,000 in his company, they’d reap between 60% and 80% for four consecutive months. For good measure, the investors would also get back their initial total deposits after this period. Court papers say over 25,000 Kenyans- and some foreigners- made a beeline for the snake oil.
Millionaire Wangai allegedly converted the forex trading into a “rob Peter-to-pay-Paul” scheme. It was a perfect Pyramid Scheme; those who ‘invested’ yesterday were paid from the deposits of today’s investors. He sustained the scheme for just long enough, before he reportedly started falling back on the payments. Discontented investors outnumber the contented. They came knocking at the doors of his office at K-Unit Building, Limuru, one morning in 2014 brandishing deposit slips, service agreements, and vain hopes of an 80% payout. Meanwhile, Wangai quietly closed shop and ‘bought a one-way-ticket to Siberia.’
Kenya has never been short of silver-tongued swindlers.
In March 2002, a woman named Debra Amelia Kasambura arrived at the Grand Regency Hotel, Nairobi (now Laico Regency) and announced she was the ‘Queen of Sheba’. She perched her elaborate self at the Presidential Suite and opened the taps of champagne- on the Kenyan government tab! She said she had KSh15 billion to invest in the country and President Daniel Arap Moi’s ministers swooned over her in supplication. At the end of her grandiloquent sojourn at the Grand, ‘Queen Sheba’ accrued a KSh34m bill before spiriting off to oblivion as quietly as she had arrived.
Then there was the Ugandan Grace Aluma. In 1982, she crossed the border and suddenly metamorphosed into a uranium billionaire. She had KSh10bn in her bank accounts, and would increase it by selling “her” International Life House- the prime building along Mama Ngina Street, Nairobi. Her target client, an Embassy, was on the verge of writing the cheque before Aluma’s phoniness was unmasked.
In 2007, a “Cooperative Society” in Mombasa promised investors 120% interest on their deposits. About KSh28m later, the society went belly up and the gullible investors have been “crying in the toilet” since. Then there was Deci, Sasanet, Family in Need, Mont Blanque, Public Likes, Amazon Web Worker….. and many others. In total, the pyramid schemes cost Kenyans more than KSh10bn.
“I take Extreme Risks which others consider fatal.. It’s Jesus who leads me.. So I trouble not” thunders Wangai in his Facebook profile. It is the tapestry on which he and his VIPortal INC wove the billion-shilling ruse.
Extreme risks he took. And as his clients later learnt, fatal they were. The Son of Man certainly didn’t lead him. But troubled Wangai has been since that day in 2014 when the clients stormed his office in Limuru.
The couple was eventually arrested and arraigned in court. According to court records, Criminal Case No. 1769 of 2014, Wangai and Nkatha were charged with two counts of conspiracy to defraud and transacting on foreign exchange business without authority of the Central Bank of Kenya Act. Their co-accused were named as Richard Nzioki Mutinda, Margaret Njoki Wanjiku, and John Okwoba Manyange. They were released on a cash bail of KSh200,000 each.
In early, 2019, an application was made to the Kiambu court to have the charges against the suspects withdrawn. The application was on the basis that “parties (accused and Joseph Mureithi, and James Wainaina) had entered consent whereby accused’s accounts were unfrozen and accused allowed to trade and refund the complainants.”
On October 8, 2019, Senior Principal Magistrate S. Atambo threw out the application. “The amount in issue is colossal and this court will not allow itself to be used as a conveyor belt for withdrawals under section 87 (a) of the criminal procedure code even without any tangible if valid reason.”
He added: “The consent referred was between the two gentlemen and accused persons and these clearly did not have the authority of all the other complainants. …there are several complainants before this court as previous records indicate who are yet to be paid….. This is a case of great public interest because the common mwananchi lost their money and I cannot turn a blind eye to this aspect especially because there is a recourse. Justice must not only be seen to have been don but be done.”
In July 2020, Robert Siahi on behalf of 124 other victims of VIPortal Inc asked the court for expedition of the six-year long case. Wangai and Nkatha were due in court on December 10, 2020. They sent an email to court from a gmail account [email protected]:
“We write to inform you that we are unwell and will not be able to attend court on 10th December 2020 for mention purposes. This is due to our ailing condition. We are both accused persons and are husband and wife……we hope to recover soon and be able to attend court….we have a young baby who depends on us. But he is fine now.”
With their failure to attend court, a warrant of arrest was subsequently issued.