Nothing to do with Wildlife Crime Yet Everything to do with Wildlife Crime
When Samir Yunus appeared in a Nairobi courtroom on December 7th, he looked nothing like a senior officer of the Kenyan police force. Arraigned on charges relating to his alleged sexual assault of a fellow police officer three years prior, his smug and cavalier demeanor was off-putting.
Dressed in a brightly coloured Abercrombie & Fitch polo shirt, designer sunglasses perched on his forehead, sporting a large wristwatch with a baseball cap resting in front, he exuded an attitude of disdain and arrogance for a court that could, in theory, sentence him to 10 years in prison. Perhaps he was aware that in this case, it was only going to be ‘in theory.’
At the time of the offense, Samir Yunus held the rank of Chief Inspector. He was the senior ranking officer of a station situated in east Nairobi. It is alleged that on the evening of June 19th, 2019, in the report room of the Dandora police station, he sexually assaulted a female officer. While this is presently the only criminal charge Samir Yunus is facing, there were other allegations.
For the past three years, Yunus has been in the public eye for several reasons, none of them favourable. The reasons are varied and encompass many of the integrity issues that doggedly follow the Kenyan police. The story of Yunus is but a microcosm of the systemic corruption that befalls the Kenyan police.
The story of Yunus began on December 11th, 2019. He had been transferred from Dandora to a police station in central Nairobi and was in a courtroom after being ordered to appear by Senior Principal Magistrate Angelo Kithinji Rwito to answer allegations of wrongdoing.
Rwito questioned Yunus as to why he is hearing complaints from accused persons in his court regarding Yunus. Three men had previously told Rwito that they had been beaten by Yunus after being arrested for random offenses.
Yunus reportedly told Rwito that the allegations were because “I might be a difficult officer to deal with because I swore never to take bribes.”
Escape from Kamukanji Police Station
Approximately six months later, in the early hours of May 14th, 2020, Martin Wasike, a Ugandan national, escaped from a police station in Kamukanji, in the suburbs of Nairobi. At the time, Yunus was still the head of the very same station. Wasike had been recently arrested with two others for kidnapping officer Abel Musati in January 2020.
Musati had been arrested the previous August after firing his service weapon at another police officer, Hillary Korir. Korir had arrested a matatu (taxi van) driver over licensing issues and was taking him to the station for processing. While en route, Musati ambushed the van with Korir inside. Musati stopped the vehicle, dragged Korir out, and shot at him. Musati it should be noted, missed Korir. It is speculated that Musati became incensed that Korir had arrested a driver that in all likelihood was paying Musati bribes. It is not uncommon for corrupt officers to have financial stakes in a matatu business.
The prison escape of Martin Wasike was actually a prison ‘release’ as later discovered through an official inquiry. CCTV footage revealed that three officers at the Kamukanji station released Wasike at 5:05 am. Those officers, Vacity Chebet Keres, Stephen Akuom Ochieng, and Elias Koom Mungaria were subsequently charged. A senior detective said at the time: “The release was deliberate and without permission from the station commander.”
In a subsequent court appearance, Yunus stated that the police had launched a manhunt for Wasike that would extend to Uganda. Yunus also told the magistrate that “a lapse by one of his officers might have allowed a Ugandan kidnapping suspect to escape from police cells.” “One of us must have erred,” Yunis said. For those who are familiar with statement analysis, the use of the pronoun ‘us’ is significant.
To date, there is no information regarding the three officers charged with the ‘release’ or whether Martin Wasike was ever apprehended.
Mombasa – Mountain from Molehill
Shortly after the ‘release,’ Samir Yunus was transferred again, this time to a police station in Mombasa, and again as the senior officer. Controversy continued to follow, although this time, not directly of his making.
In a November 2021 incident, one of his subordinates, Viviana Williams, became embroiled in a civil matter over her purchase of an $800 defective iPhone from a local vendor. The poor handling of the matter, including Yunus’ non-release of the negotiated $800 settlement to Williams, resulted in file escalation to the Deputy Inspector General of the Kenyan police, Edward Mbugua, for final resolution.
Mbugua ordered that Williams be paid the $800 and then transferred from her traffic posting to another station in Kisauni, Mombasa. This resulted in Williams lodging a complaint with internal affairs that Yunus had “engineered her redeployment from traffic duties to general duties.” Everything boiled over when Williams posted a video on YouTube that went viral, looking for public support in her efforts to resign from the force.
Coincidence or not, shortly thereafter, Yunus was transferred for a third time back to Nairobi and this time as senior officer of a station in Pangani, a suburb of Nairobi.
Many in Kenya will know that the Pangani police station is synonymous with extrajudicial killings. In a 2021 report by Missing Voices Kenya, Pangani station had the ‘most associations’ to extrajudicial killings in the country: 30 out of a countrywide total of 219.
The transfer of Yunus to Pangani did not escape the attention of the media. Social media led the way, questioning how a senior officer could still be actively in command of a station while investigations were ongoing into sexual assault allegations from now eight different female police officers.
#Aiding and abetting
From a personnel and organizational perspective, the worst was yet to come. On July 24th, NTV of the Nation Media Group aired an investigative exposé, “Aiding and Abetting,” and Samir Yunus had a starring role.
In late March of 2022, a Somali national, Hussein Mumin Hassan, was convicted in a Makadara court (east Nairobi) by Judge M. Thibaru of being illegally in the country. Hassan was sentenced to pay a fine of $100 or serve two months in jail. On completion of his sentence, he was to be deported to Somalia. Hassan was being held in the cells of the Pangani police station.
Hassan’s close relatives did not want him deported and enlisted a broker, Ali, to assist them. Ali approached Yunus and negotiated the release of Hassan for $1,900.
On April 7th, the broker and a Hassan family member met with Yunus at his station and handed over a small red cloth bag containing the cash. While the actual cash transfer was not captured on camera, there is enough footage and recorded conversation to show conclusively that Yunus had been paid. The broker and family then left his office, having been told it would take a few days to process.
On April 12th, Hassan was released to his family and the broker. The release was officially documented, reading that “at 08:47 hrs prisoners released under the instruction of OCS Y. Samir, Inspector Odhiambo, DC Otieno to release Hussein Mumin Hassan without complaint.”
A short time later, the broker was contacted by the police again and told that another $100 was still required to finalize the transaction. The broker returned to the station, and met Yunus, but was directed to another officer to whom this cash was paid. This transaction was captured on video.
After the airing of the investigative exposé, the police response was predictably minimal. NTV did a follow-up three months later to find that as per a police organizational directive of September 12th, Yunus was transferred to a supervisory position within a traffic unit at a station in Ruiru. NTV also contacted the Kenyan police spokesperson, Bruno Shioso, who referred them up the organizational line but remarkably referred to the investigation into the events of the release of Hussein Mumin Hassan as ‘administrative.’
The other questions
Further examination into this apparent chain of criminality following Yunus is required to realize the full context.
Yunus received $1,900 for the release of Hassan. How many times previously could this have been facilitated? In the hundreds perhaps? And what of the involved ‘process’ in the illegal release? How many others were part of that ‘process’? The broker indicated in a recorded conversation that Yunus shared his earnings with his commanding officers.
Did the ‘process’ involve the courts in any manner? It was a Makadara court magistrate who ordered the deportation. Did sentencing documents have to be ‘adjusted’ to negate the deportation stipulation?
And what of the immigration component? How was that manipulated? Was fraudulent documentation drafted to reflect Hassan’s transportation to the Somali border? And from a sentencing perspective, how, in an environment where terrorism from Somalia and Al-Shabaab is a daily and imminent threat, can the offense of ‘illegally in the country’ be subject to a fine of only $100?
Regarding the Ugandan prisoner ‘release’ from police custody, it certainly extends beyond three involved officers making an error. It is also not credible that it was carried out without the approval, tacit or otherwise, of Yunus. The commanding officer of a station typically has absolute control of who comes and goes from that station, particularly in relation to the money that can be made from an irregular prisoner release.
No subordinate would release a prisoner of that stature unless they had specific orders from their boss. In this case, two scenarios are most probable. Either Martin Wasike was released having paid a very significant amount of cash or he was released to be executed for his suspected involvement in the kidnapping (and probable murder) of another police officer who engaged in criminal activity.
The comments of police spokesperson, Bruno Shioso, during his interview with NTV also bear notice. It is difficult to comprehend how the release of a Somali national, illegally in the country, who has been charged and convicted as such, who has been ordered deported by the courts but is released by a senior police officer for a considerable cash bribe should only be an administrative investigation. Is he suggesting that the practice of “bribe for release” is so rampant in police stations throughout the country that an administrative investigation is the only viable avenue for redress?
And lastly, is any inference to be made of the four transfers of Yunus within a three-year period? Does the fact that four of the five stations are in the Nairobi area, within an approximate 20 km radius of each other, an indicator of his favour within the Kenyan police hierarchy? And what of the other four station commanders who found themselves transferred to make way for Yunus?
The wildlife connection
So, what do the chronicles of Samir Yunus have to do with wildlife crime?
Perhaps the answer to that question is better prefaced with another question. If the Kenyan police, whose actions are a regular focus of the national media as engaging in behaviours that are more conducive to private enrichment than public service, but who are also recognized as being the gateway to the criminal justice system, what of the other involved elements of the same criminal justice system? Is it believable that the other elements are not also tainted?
Wildlife crime cases are investigated, prosecuted, and adjudicated by the criminal justice system in their entirety. The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) is also part of that process. They are certainly not free of integrity issues but seemingly the Kenyan police are more vulnerable to those concerns. This is not surprising when one compares the size of the respective agencies (KWS has approximately 4,000 personnel), the fact that the Kenyan police engage with the community on many issues as opposed to just wildlife, and the KWS’s policy of keeping their anti-poaching activities and discipline issues in-house. KWS has no independent oversight.
KWS investigates wildlife crime generally but often, and in addition, the Kenyan police, has active involvement; either through arrest and/or lodging of arrestees, continued file investigation, and oversight, or the lead role in the more serious wildlife investigations such as large, transnational, ivory seizures. A 2018-2019 courtroom monitoring report by Wildlife Direct indicated that of the data analyzed, 31% of arrests under the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act were made by the Kenyan police. This figure likely does not include arrests made by KWS (in more rural areas) where the assigned investigation officer was from the Kenyan police.
The vulnerabilities of compromised integrity, from the lower levels of the Kenyan police up to the ministerial level, have played out significantly in major wildlife crime investigations. In a March 2021 report, George Kinoti, the Director of Criminal Investigations, admitted that: “wildlife crime was not initially taken seriously as a major crime.” Five years previous, Kinoti’s predecessor, Ndegwa Muhoro, stated publicly that “security agents suspected the Jefwa brothers were being protected by wealthy individuals behind the killing of elephants and rhinos in many parts of Kenya.” This was in regard to almost 8 tonnes of ivory that had been seized in Thailand and Singapore in mid-2015 that had transited Mombasa. When one reads “wealthy individuals” in this context, it refers to persons who are at a level above George Kinoti’s purview.
Since 2009, there has only been one conviction in a major ivory case in Kenya and that was in March of 2022. Fredrick Sababu Mungule and James Ngala Kassiwa had been charged with two offenses under the East African Community Customs Management Act (EACCMA); criminal conspiracy and bringing into customs area prohibited goods, namely 638 pieces of ivory weighing 3,827 kg for export to Thailand in January 2013. In March of 2022, Chief Magistrate Edna Nyaloti rendered a conviction to the first charge only and sentenced both to a two-year jail term; the minimal sentence was a virtual guarantee that they would not appeal for fear of receiving even more jail time.
In Mombasa area courts in the past two years, there have been four ivory cases whereby investigators or officers provided either contradictory evidence to that of KWS investigators or testified in a manner that was hostile to the prosecution. In two of the four, CF 754/13 (Mombasa) and CF 843/17 (Kwale), acquittals were registered. One prosecution is still ongoing, E005/22 (Mombasa), while in the fourth case, CF 1008/18 (Mombasa) Chief Magistrate Nyaloti prevailed again to sift through the contradictions to render a conviction.
Samir Yunus is the epitome of what the Kenyan populous sees in its national police force. Most expect his trial to be no more than a public relations exercise. It is expected that he will either be acquitted of the sexual assault charge, or it will be withdrawn. It is expected that key prosecution witnesses will not testify, or that required documentary evidence will go missing or be altered. It is expected that evidence will be procured to discredit the prosecution, or an out-of-court settlement will be ‘negotiated.’
It is expected that Yunus will be transferred to command another police station or even be promoted. It is expected that the female officer who lodged the allegation will be transferred to a hellhole.
The Yunus saga is not just a Kenyan story, and it is not just a corrupt police officer story. It could be about any African elephant range state to a greater or lesser degree, speaking to the integrity issues within criminal justice systems and subsequent impacts on wildlife crime investigations and prosecutions.
It is often difficult to believe that within these criminal justice systems, there are officers with integrity. But there are many exemplary characters, who make lawful arrests, who are diligent in their investigations, who are motivated by their belief in justice, the rule of law, and a higher moral code. What is even more impressive, is that these officers continue their investigations in an environment where the sword of Damocles, in the form of compromised integrity, could drop at any time.