(Continued from But Deliver Us from Evil II)
Many people view Ronald as a rich man, and they are not wrong. In an impoverished country like Kenya, a man with the kind of assets and investments that he has is a rich man. In addition to his very successful law firm, he has a successful real estate business. Other than M’Nyiri House and Ronald Plaza, M’Nyiri Properties Ltd owns and manages many other commercial and residential houses in almost all the towns in Meru, Tharaka Nithi, Laikipia, Isiolo and Embu counties. Ronald, through M’Nyiri Properties Ltd, has rental properties in the towns of Meru, Nkubu, Maua, Isiolo, Nanyuki, Naromoru, Chuka, Chogoria, Marimanti, Runyenjes, Embu and Siakago. The company is headquartered at Ronald’s Plaza in Meru, and is run by a competent lady called Gladys.
Ronald also has substantial shares at the Nairobi Stock Exchange. Recently, he has entered the hospitality market by buying a three-star hotel in Meru town that was facing financial headwinds. He also sits on the boards of several public and private companies, including Jahazi Group where he is the chairman. He earns substantial income from those appointments.
Simply put, he is not a poor man. But he is not nearly as rich as the man he is going to see. Charles Muthatu has been his friend since they were children in Abothuguchi West in Meru County. They were neighbors who shared not just the boundaries of their ancestral lands, but also the biting poverty that afflicted most people in their village. They walked barefoot as they went to Kithirune Primary School.
They shared an insatiable desire to rise above the poverty that they had been born in, although they differed in their view of how their fortunes would change. Ronald was convinced that their fortunes would change through education. He had his eyes firmly set on a career in law. He topped their class from class one to class seven. He passed his CPE and was admitted to Meru School where he did both his O and A levels. After that he went to the university of Nairobi to pursue his dream career in law.
Muthatu did not advance his education beyond class seven. He did not pass his CPE examinations, and he left for Nairobi, where he promised his friend that he would make it big.
“You will be my lawyer when I become rich,” he told his friend.
It came to pass.
The next time they met, Ronald was at the university. Muthatu came one day to visit him and told him he had learned from another for their village mates that he, Ronald, was at the campus. Ronald was in second year at the university then. Muthatu was smartly dressed in a three-piece suit and was driving a Peugeot 404. Ronald could not believe what he was seeing. His friend, without education, had become rich while still young.
“You have made it my friend,” he said in awe. At the back of his mind, he was expecting Muthatu to laugh and admit that he is a driver. But it wasn’t to be.
“Not quite, but I am on my way there. And I came looking for you because I want us to walk this journey together. I want you to be my lawyer.”
“I am not yet a qualified lawyer, my friend.”
“With that attitude you will get nowhere my friend. I am giving you an opportunity and you are telling me stories about not being qualified? You think I don’t know you are student?”
That is how Ronald began his career. It happened that Muthatu had a fleet of buses that plied the Nairobi-Meru route. He was also in the business of selling land. Since he was semi-illiterate, he entrusted his friend the work of ensuring that he was not conned. Ronald was given an office where he worked when he was not in school, and Muthatu paid him well. It is in this period, while helping Muthatu with his real estate business, that Ronald bought the pieces of land where his rental houses now stand.
When he completed his legal studies, Muthatu introduced him to an old lawyer who was hanging his boots in the profession, and Ronald started using the old man’s law firm to practice. At the time, it was a requirement for lawyers to practice under an older lawyer for two years before branching out on their own. Muthatu thought it was a nonsense requirement and he helped his friend to circumvent it. After the lapse of the two years, Ronald founded Mwenda M’Nyiri & Co. Advocates.
Ronald tried to find out the real source of his friend’s money but whenever he asked Muthatu would just laugh and tell him not to be nosy. Ronald suspected that Muthatu was involved in something illegal such as drug or human trafficking, gold smuggling, fleecing the government or something in those lines, but he didn’t know for sure. His friend entrusted him with his legitimate business interests and kept mum about any shady deals he may have had.
It is only after Jahazi Group was established ten years ago that Ronald got to realize his hunch was right. As the chairman of the Group, Ronald gets to know everything that goes on in that company. It is quite obvious that the company is a money laundering operation. Muthatu still doesn’t admit it openly, but his business partners don’t hide that fact when the board meets. Ronald knows that the three Ugandans are involved in illegal arms business. Apparently, they sell weapons to rebels in South Sudan and the DRC. One of the other two Kenyans in the business is a drug dealer and the other has always hinted that he and Muthatu have been smuggling gold from South Africa, Angola and DRC for years. The Somalis run a piracy operation in the Gulf of Aden, and they apparently also smuggle workers to Arabia. Muthatu is the only shareholder who doesn’t sit on the board; he prefers to be represented by his friend and lawyer.
Interestingly, even though he doesn’t sit on the board, it is Muthatu who put together the group and proposed the idea of setting up the farming operation to sanitize their money. That, and the fact he is the largest shareholder in Jahazi Group, suggests to Ronald that Muthatu is a big player in the criminal world. Interestingly, the Somalis met the Ugandans through Muthatu, and in addition to becoming partners at Jahazi Group, they also partnered in arms trade. The Somalis became brokers for the Ugandans, who began selling arms to Somali warlords.
After making this realization, Ronald started carefully looking at the financials of the other companies that Muthatu owns, and he realized that something fishy was going on, although the ploy is so cleverly worked out that only someone who knows how it works would see it. All the companies are money laundering operations.
Ronald does not complain though. He has succeeded mostly because of his association with his semi-illiterate friend. Muthatu is still his primary client, through his six companies. Muthatu owns an aviation company that operates flights across East Africa. He owns majority stakes in an insurance company and a bank. He owns a chain of bar and restaurants. He is the single largest shareholder in Jahazi Group. He abandoned his real estate business, but he still owns the transport company. The company has a fleet of eighty-four buses that crisscross East Africa, going as far as Kigali, Bujumbura, Dar es Salaam, Dodoma and Kampala.
Ronald is the chairman of the boards of all six of Muthatu’s companies. Muthatu eschews publicity of any kind, and uses his lawyer and friend to perform all public functions relating to his businesses. He has never appeared on a newspaper or television story. He does not have social media pages.
As Ronald’s driver cruises through the wooded driveway that will take them to Muthatu’s house, Ronald cannot help but worry about his friend. For over three decades, his friend has been the calm captain of his ship. He has always had a temper, but his business decisions have always been carefully thought out. How he navigated the challenges of his illegal business, Ronald would never know. But he has always demonstrated a level of cunning that can only be achieved through a clear mind.
But in recent times Muthatu has been acting rather emotionally and irrationally. Ronald was not consulted or informed about the decision to kill Rashid, but he knows that it is was Muthatu who ordered it. He had thrown enough hints before it was done. Rashid had been a thorn in Muthatu’s flesh for a while, but the old Muthatu would have found a way to neutralize him without having to eliminate him. Rashid was a puppet for the Somalis, meaning he would never spill the beans. Muthatu could easily have gotten him a government appointment to take him away from Jahazi Group without drama.
But he chose to kill him, and that worries Ronald. Could his friend be having a breakdown?
When he told Margaret that she cannot leave because she knew too many secrets, Ronald was being sincere. And he was watching out for her. Muthatu would not take it kindly if she resigned. Margaret doesn’t know it, but Muthatu handpicked her. And he did it because he has romantic feelings for her; he told Ronald as much. And that worries Ronald too because that is not how his friend ordinarily makes business decisions. If Margaret resigns, Muthatu in his current frame of mind will see it as a personal betrayal, and he will be livid.
But that is the situation. Ronald can only hope that Julius will succeed in convincing her to stay, and that he (Julius) will stay clear of her. But Ronald wonders what will happen when Muthatu makes a romantic move on Margaret and she says no.
That will be messy, because the tycoon is not used to being rejected. Ronald sighs deeply as his car turns around a corner and approaches the mansions. He can only hope that his friend will returns to his right frame of mind before he causes an unnecessary bloodbath.
(As usual, I intend to complete this story on Saturday. So come prepared to grab your copy for only Kshs. 100.)
Image by Pexels from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/black-and-white-businessman-man-1284271/
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