Inside web of lies that led Kenyan police to Dutch billionaire Cohen's body

Tuesday September 17 2019

Dutch billionaire Tob Cohen whose body was

Dutch billionaire Tob Cohen whose body was found in his home in Kitisuru, an upmarket area in Kenya's capital Nairobi. Investigations into his murder are ongoing and his Kenyan wife Sarah Wairimu -- whom police have placed at the scene of crime -- is in custody. NMG PHOTO  

By DAILY NATION

Dutch tycoon Tob Cohen’s body was not supposed to be found — not until top forensic experts in Kenya started to piece together the story and wade through the web of lies, concocted stories, half-truths, and pretence.

The Daily Nation exclusively reveal how the detectives managed to unwrap the riddle of the missing tycoon leading to the discovery of his body on Friday afternoon — some 55 days after he was alleged to have flown to Bangkok, Thailand, to seek medical attention.

Mr Cohen’s killers thought they had covered their tracks well, and that they had a perfect alibi.

At his Kitisuru home in Kenya's capital Nairobi, the cast-iron manhole cover for the rectangular underground water tank was well sealed with cement — and a heavy water boiler put on top like a blank grave marker.

A garden stone sculpture of a leopard, knocked to the ground, lay nearby on its side.

Some of the trees in the neatly laid compound had been pruned and the dry twigs piled on top of the emptied underground tank to naively hide where the body of the Nairobi-based golf tycoon was supposed to rot in the exclusive Nairobi suburb.

Advertisement

EVIDENCE

One of the suspects in custody has told police that he had been given a contract to build a small house on top of the tank — to perpetually seal the site.

Cohen, 71, had built the fresh water tank, under a giant bamboo plant, to store rain water to irrigate his well-manicured lawns — and for use at his impressive sky-blue and white colour bungalow where he lived with his former secretary-turned wife, Sarah Wairimu — whom police have placed at the scene of crime.

It was also the headquarters of his specialised golf tours company, Tobs Kenya Golf Safaris Limited.

Ever since Cohen vanished on the night of July 19 and 20, his estranged wife had maintained to her inquisitive friends and unrelenting investigators that the one-time chief executive officer of Dutch conglomerate Phillips East Africa had left home on the afternoon of July 20 and flown to Thailand to seek medical treatment.

“It was a story she had made up,” says Mr Patrick Kariuki Muiruri — the last person who played a four-ball golf match with Cohen at the Vet Lab golf course in Kabete on July 15.

Mr Muiruri, a former Gatundu North MP, had been Cohen’s friend for the last 30 years.

Evidence now with the police indicates that on the morning of July 19 — and on the day the water tank was emptied, Ms Wairimu placed a call to Peter Njoroge Karanja — the estranged husband of Gilgil MP Martha Wangari.

PHONE TRACKING

Both Mr Karanja and Ms Wairimu were going through divorce proceedings over domestic violence at the High Court in Nairobi. They were also alleged to be lovers.

Mr Karanja, who was then in Gilgil town, told police that he drove his Subaru, registration number KCF 356T, for the two-hour drive after he was summoned by Ms Wairimu.

For what? “Business,” he told detectives.

By using the phone tracking technology, the two forensic experts assigned to the case found that Mr Karanja then called and picked another man in Naivasha and the two drove to Nairobi together.

Police are now hunting for this suspect who is on the run.

At around 10am, after a series of phone calls to Ms Wairimu and which were easily tracked, the three converged at a well-known restaurant in Westlands for a breakfast meeting.

They were captured on CCTV. The bill was paid by Ms Wairimu who left in a hurry.

Later on, the two men had a meeting with the daughter of a late Cabinet minister from Mt Kenya region and they ate lunch together at another popular restaurant.

It was paid by the woman (name withheld), who is also being sought for interrogation.

ASSAULT CHARGES

At about 2.30pm, and after meeting the prominent politician’s daughter, Mr Karanja called Ms Wairimu, and he is captured by road cameras driving towards Naivasha through Waiyaki Way.

That morning, July 19, in a day of drama, a frightened Tob Cohen had gone to Parklands Police Station to follow up on the investigation into assault charges he was pressing against Ms Wairimu.

With the arrival of police, Ms Wairimu is alleged to have locked herself in the bedroom and called officers from the nearby Spring Valley Police Station to rescue her.

“She told them her home had been raided by gangsters,” an informant told Daily Nation.

By the time the Spring Valley police arrived — their counterparts from Parklands had left and with instructions from their boss: both Cohen and Ms Wairimu should be taken to court that coming Monday, July 22, since each had a P3 form — a police chit that acts as evidence that a violent act occurred and is admissible in court as evidence.

A few days earlier, Cohen had also written to the Inspector General of Police and to the Director of Public Prosecutions alleging that police officers from Parklands Police Station had failed to arrest Ms Wairimu, but instead wanted to press charges against him.

“… Aimed not only at soiling his reputation but also having him deported from Kenya so that his properties become free and available to Sarah Wairimu Kamotho and her accomplices,” a letter from Cohen’s lawyer, Mr Danstan Omari, read.

SARAH IN DANGER

The story had been picked by various news outlets and Ms Wairimu had sent the links to Mr Karanja on the morning of July 19. Why? Nobody knows.

Mr Karanja’s version of the story is that after the morning meeting with Ms Wairimu and on his way back to Naivasha and near Limuru town, he was asked to drive back to Mr Cohen’s home since Wairimu’s life was in danger.

Mr Karanja told detectives that he reached Cohen’s home at 4pm and they found a wealthy former Nairobi county government official — who had driven in a Lexus. In the compound were four policemen who had come to arrest Cohen.

After the Spring Valley police officers left on the afternoon of July 19, and without arresting Cohen — detectives were told that he was “very angry, annoyed and disturbed.”

He entered his Mercedes car, registration number KAD 858S, and drove to Muthaiga Golf Club, where he was a member — and started drinking.

Mr Karanja told detectives that after Cohen left, he drove out with his friend and he headed back to Naivasha where he dropped off his friend at a hotel.

SKETCHY DETAIL

He then drove to another Naivasha restaurant, but before he settled down, he got a call from Ms Wairimu. The time was now 8pm.

“He was asked to return to Nairobi urgently,” a detective familiar with the interrogation says.

Alone, Mr Karanja reached Nairobi at around 10.30pm. But rather than drive to Cohen’s home — he told police that he drove to Parklands Sports Club, took a computer bag and walked outside to look for a taxi. Why? Nobody knows.

The man, now in police custody, told detectives that upon reaching Cohen’s house at about 11.15pm — the gate was opened by an “unknown man”.

He told police that he entered the house through the kitchen door and sat in the TV room, took tea with Ms Wairimu and had “a 30-minute business discussion”.

It was now midnight and he asked to leave. But he had no car.

Detectives were intrigued by this story: why would a man leave Naivasha and drive 100 kilometres to Nairobi at midnight for a 30-minute talk with somebody’s wife? Why did he leave his car at Parklands Sports Club?

By this time, Cohen was at the Muthaiga Golf Club, drinking and worrying. He had spoken to Mr Muiruri at about 10pm who advised him to keep safe.

INCONSISTENCIES

But inside Muthaiga Golf Club was Ms Wairimu’s best friend — a well-known socialite who kept watch on Cohen’s movements.

“This woman kept in touch with Ms Wairimu that night and had called her several times from Muthaiga,” says a detective familiar with the case.

The woman, who comes from a prominent Kiambu family, is also being sought.

While Mr Karanja had initially told police that he walked out of Cohen’s compound at midnight, took a matatu to city centre and a boda-boda to K1 bar in Parklands — his phone data indicated that he spent the night at Cohen’s home until the morning of July 20.

Asked about these inconsistencies, Mr Karanja, in his statement to the police, said he left his two phones and the laptop bag with Ms Wairimu but forgot to switch them off.

“That story is not adding up,” a detective told Daily Nation. “Phone data indicates that all night — and the early morning, Mr Karanja’s phone was in contact with other people — who are also being sought.”

At K1, Mr Karanja had told police, he took Southern Comfort until 4.30am when he walked to the nearby Parklands Sports Club and slept in his car till morning. Police have not found any CCTV footage to back this claim.

STAFF COACHED

Mr Karanja insisted to the police that after washing his face at Parklands, he left his car and took a matatu to Cohen’s place — to ostensibly pick his laptop bag and two phones.

That morning, Ms Wairimu sent Mr Karanja some Ksh10,000 ($100) — and forensic data indicates that it was sent while the two were together in the house.

He further claims to have taken a matatu to Parklands, picked his vehicle and left for Gilgil.

In one of the WhatsApp communication on the evening of July 20 — and now with the police — Ms Wairimu asks Mr Karanja: “How is your hand now, is it improving?”

Mr Karanja replied: “It is improving.”

Cohen’s workers had also told the police stories that did not add up.

While the two workers had claimed that they saw Cohen leaving the compound on the afternoon of July 20, they changed their story when police confronted them with forensic data on their phone locations at 2pm when they alleged to have been at the compound.

One of the workers, initially fired by Cohen, had been summoned from Kayole and arrived at Cohen’s house at around 3pm — while the other never worked during weekends.

They told police they had been “coached” on what to say — and started spilling the beans leading to the arrest of Ms Wairimu.

This also followed a detailed forensic analysis report written by detectives after analysing data on various people in touch with Ms Wairimu on the day Cohen disappeared.

BODY RETRIEVED

But detectives had run into a major hindrance. After interrogating various people, they had not found Cohen’s body and Ms Wairimu had refused to talk.

The defence had got an order that Ms Wairimu, while under arrest, should not be questioned.

She also refused to give her phone’s pin number and screen pattern — thus denying forensic experts a chance to analyse her data.

On August 3, Mr Karanja was advised by Ms Wairimu to switch off his two phones — and “buy mulika mwizi” since detectives were on his trail.

The “mulika mwizi” referred to a cheap phone and this message from Ms Wairimu was retrieved from Mr Karanja’s phone by the forensic team.

As Ms Wairimu is taken to court to plead to murder charges, police will this morning be seeking more time to hold Mr Karanja — the man who spilled the beans on where Cohen’s body was dumped.

Police sources indicate that on Friday morning, the police had prepared charges against Mr Karanja, and just as he was about to be taken to court he asked to reveal something: the whereabouts of Cohen’s body, which was to mark the end of a lengthy search.

COHEN GOES MISSING

Ever since he filed for divorce — and filed assault complaints against his wife — Cohen had expressed his fear to his only sister, Gabrielle Van Straten, and to Mr Muiruri.

“The two had an agreement: every day, without fail, Tob Cohen would call his sister twice to just say he was alive,” says Mr Muiruri.

When Cohen did not call on the morning of July 20, Ms Van Straten panicked and reported the matter to Dutch police that her brother could be in danger.

But by the time she was reporting that her brother was in danger, Ms Wairimu had a day earlier sent a letter to the Dutch Embassy in Nairobi dated July 18, 2019 seeking “help” and saying that Tob has “depression and a mental condition he won’t address for personal reasons”. She wanted them to intervene.

Interestingly, on July 22, Ms Wairimu had reported Cohen as missing at Kilimani Police Station where the matter was booked in the occurrence book.

She had also left the homestead and was staying in hotels.

It was not until July 25, after the Nairobi embassy had received a note from Amsterdam, that they invited Ms Wairimu seeking to know the whereabouts of her husband — and about her letter.

“He said he was going to Thailand,” Ms Wairimu is alleged to have told the two Dutch embassy officials.

MARRIAGE

Thereafter, she left and the two Dutch officials went to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and raised the matter.

“They (Embassy officials) never helped me,” Ms Wairimu had told this writer before she was arrested and charged with murder. At Kiambu Road, Directorate of Criminal Investigations boss George Kinoti assembled a team of four detectives from both the homicide and forensic departments to help unravel the puzzle of the missing Dutch tycoon.

“It was a very complex case,” says Mr Kinoti. Cohen’s two workers had separately told the police that Cohen left home on the afternoon of July 20 wearing blue jeans and with his briefcase.

They claimed that he was picked up at the gate by a white car. By the time they were being interrogated by police, Ms Wairimu was away in Nyeri — and she repeated the same story.

“She was very composed,” a detective handling the case told the Daily Nation. Cohen married Ms Wairimu on May 30, 2007 after the death of his wife.

But later, according to divorce papers filed in court, the marriage turned rocky, abusive and abrasive.

On Friday, Cohen’s body, wrapped in a black polythene bag, with a rope around his neck and his hands tied in the front, was retrieved from the water storage tank.

Advertisement