Kisumu corruption - stuck in molasses

There is also no evidence that the Molasses Project or BAK’s involvement was in any way blocked.

In Summary

• Those behind the plot were allegedly Finance Minister George Saitoti, Energy Minister Nicholas Biwott, Minister of Agriculture Eleah Mwangale, and indirectly President Moi.

The Kisumu molasses plant./FILE
The Kisumu molasses plant./FILE

Detective Superintendent John Troon from New Scotland Yard was about four weeks into his inquiry into the murder of Dr Robert Ouko when he was given a file via a high-level diplomatic courier. Once he’d read it and interviewed its source the direction of Troon’s investigation changed dramatically.

The file was delivered to Troon’s colleague Detective Inspector Lindsay in Kenya and came from Professor Ogada, Kenya’s Ambassador to the United Nations based in Switzerland.


The file originated from a Swiss-German woman, Marianne Briner-Mattern, who together with an Italian, Domenico Airaghi, said they were directors of BAK International, a company based in Switzerland.

BAK had been selected by Dr Ouko in 1987, when he was Minister for Industry, to help restart a defunct molasses processing plant in Kisumu.

Troon interviewed Brinner-Mattern in London over a period of three days, while her partner Airaghi was interviewed by one of his colleagues in Spain.


From this testimony Troon came up with a theory that senior government ministers and officials demanded bribes via intermediaries to allow the project to rehabilitate molasses processing plant in Kisumu to go forward. When they didn’t get them they blocked the project and BAK’s involvement, and nominated other companies against them.

Those behind the plot were allegedly Finance Minister George Saitoti, Energy Minister Nicholas Biwott, Minister of Agriculture Eleah Mwangale, and indirectly President Moi.

Brinner-Mattern also claimed that just before he was murdered Dr Ouko was working on a report to be sent to President Moi that would expose the corruption.

It was to get hold of the ‘corruption report’ and quash the allegation of corruption that Troon thought might have provided a motive for Ouko’s murder.

This was Troon’s ‘Kisumu Molasses Project corruption theory’.


The original Kisumu Molasses Project had begun in 1981 but within two years it was $57m over budget and work stopped.

In 1987 President Moi announced that it was to be revived. Robert Ouko as Minister for Industry and the plant being in his Kisumu constituency was put in charge of the project.

The rehabilitation of the molasses plant would of course bring much needed employment to the Kisumu area but it was also a local political issue.

In the 1988 election Ouko was facing a stiff challenge from a Joab Omino. Both President Moi and Ouko knew that the Molasses project would be good for votes.

An inter-ministerial committee was set up chaired by Dr Ouko and they selected BAK to obtain funding for the project and to nominate companies that would ultimately complete the work.

 On November 3rd, 1987, the Cabinet agreed to the proposal.

But five months later, by the time of the election in March 1988, the project had not got underway although Ouko had engaged 50 workers paid for by Airaghi to clear around the molasses plant, as local voters no doubt observed.

Ouko narrowly beat Omino in the election of March 1988 and was promoted to Minister of Foreign Affairs and the newly elected MP Dalmas Otieno replaced him as Minister of Industry, the man now in charge of the Kisumu Molasses Project.

However, in November Minister Otieno told Parliament that BAK was of ‘doubtful integrity’ and four months later Domenico Airaghi was arrested by immigration officers and expelled from Kenya for alleged ‘interference with Government matters’.


A major problem with Troon’s Kisumu Molasses theory was that it was entirely based on the testimony of Briner-Mattern and Airaghi, and documents that they alone had provided.

Troon admitted as much in November 1991 during the Public Inquiry into Dr Ouko’s murder.

He was challenged by Mr Bernard Chunga: “So ultimately, Mr. Troon, the allegations of corruption boil down to BAK Directors”.

Troon replied: “Yes My Lords, which is, apparently, supported by documentary evidence they have also produced”.

Chunga responded: “Yes, documents written by themselves… Documents written by Airaghi and documents written by Marianne”.

Troon also said Briner-Mattern’s testimony supported, quote, “in essence” that of Airaghi: it did not.

Briner-Mattern said she was at meetings where bribes were asked for: Airaghi said she was not at those meetings.

Briner-Mattern said Dr Robert Ouko was working on a corruption report over the molasses project: Airaghi never mentioned it.


There is also no evidence before the election of 1988 that the Molasses Project or BAK’s involvement was in any way blocked.

Briner-Mattern alleged that senior Kenyan government ministers removed the Kisumu Molasses Project from the agenda of the Italian-Kenya bi-lateral meeting held in Rome on the 5th to 6th of November, 1987, this supposedly stopped it from getting any Italian funding.

She named those responsible as Saitoti, Biwott and Dalmas Otieno.

But the Cabinet didn’t endorse the project until November 3rd. Authorisation wasn’t signed until a day later when the Kenyan delegation was already flying to Italy.

The Molasses Project could not have been on the agenda at the bi-lateral meeting in early November 1987, an agenda that had been agreed months before.

George Saitoti did attend the bi-lateral meeting. Nicholas Biwott did not, as the minutes prove.

And the claim by Briner-Mattern that Dalmas Otieno was at the meeting was absurd: Otieno was not even a Member of Parliament at the time.

The rehabilitation of the Molasses plant was an official government project, and every decision was recorded and filed. If Troon had read the government file, which was available to him, he would have known that what Briner-Mattern said was untrue: but he didn’t.


Central to the corruption allegations was that another company was promoted by Ministers Saitoti and Biwott to challenge one nominated by BAK.

Dorothy Randiak alleged that her brother had told her that “powerful people” were against the molasses project and that Biwott put forward a rival company.

Her testimony was hearsay and she had not mentioned the subject in her previous statements.  

Under questioning at the Public inquiry, when shown official correspondence, Randiak had to admit what she said she’d heard was wrong:  “... on the strength of the documents that you have read, that I’ve followed, it would appear that there was no rivalry”, she said.

Domenico Airaghi’s own statement to Scotland Yard confirmed that Randiak was mistaken; ‘On 16th June 1988, I returned to Kenya to re-negotiate the Molasses project... I dealt with Mr Otieno’.

 Briner-Mattern also alleged that unknown to Dr Ouko a feasibility study was undertaken by Biwott for a Canadian company.  The company, F.C Schaffer was in fact American. The study was paid for by a US government grant aid of $240,000.Dr Ouko was fully aware of all of this.

Once again, if Troon had read the government files he would have known that Briner-Mattern’s allegation was untrue.

All of the companies put forward for the Molasses Project were put forward by BAK – by Domenico Airaghi and Marianne Briner-Mattern - the last two of which were part of the same Italian multi-national Italian group.

BAK had the contract with the Kenyan government. One of their nominated companies would get the contract for the Molasses project.

Why would a company pay a bribe to win a contract against itself?

And there was no evidence of payments ever being made there was no evidence of corruption.

But there is evidence that Airaghi and Briner-Mattern were themselves prepared to offer what they called “commission”.

Briner-Mattern said she and Airaghi offered “commission” payments to senior Kenyan ministers, allegedly 2 per cent of the contract to Professor Saitoti, and 1 per cent each to E. Mwangale and Dr Ouko himself.

The Kisumu Molasses Project wasn’t “blocked”. BAK were not “frustrated”, the problem was that Airaghi and Briner-Mattern did not come up with the money and, it seems, they knew nothing at all about Molasses. Then, both BAK and the companies they nominated started to ask the Kenyan government for money. This was not what the Cabinet had agreed to.

It was Dalmas Otieno who called a halt to BAK’s involvement in the Molasses Project.

Otieno gave his reasons to Scotland Yard.

“I personally interviewed Mr Airaghi and I considered he was not competent to handle the project and knew nothing about Molasses. He initially asked for one million US dollars for the feasibility study, he then halved this sum, and eventually settled for 300,000 dollars”.

“Are you aware that he would do this study free?” asked the interviewer.

“No”, responded Otieno, “he wanted a letter of credit from me, which does not make it free. The last time I saw Mr Airaghi in 1988 I told him my views and he never came back”.


Briner-Mattern and Airaghi also claimed that Nicholas Biwott was behind Airaghi’s expulsion from Kenya. But the decision too was Dalmas Otieno’s.

Airaghi said as much in a letter he wrote to Otieno in August 1989: ‘I have been informed that, upon your request, on March 15th, I have been asked to leave Kenya, for “interference” in Government matters, regarding the Kisumu Molasses Rehabilitation…’ Nowhere in the letter was Biwott’s name mentioned.


The key testimony on which Troon based his theory that Dr Ouko was writing a corruption report centred round communications Briner-Mattern claimed to have had with Ouko just before he was murdered.

She told Troon she had written to Ouko on 29th January. After supposedly receiving it, Ouko she said phoned her on the 5th February asking for additional correspondence to be posted to Kisumu.

Briner-Mattern claimed to have had a second call from Ouko on Saturday 10th confirming he’d received her second package and was preparing a report to go the President before he flew to The Gambia.


Troon’s report says her allegations were of corruption against ministers and officials: either he didn’t read them, or if he did, he ignored it. And this is one of the biggest mistakes of his investigation. For Briner-Mattern’s letters were not about corruption - they were in fact threatening Dr Robert Ouko.

In her purported letter to Ouko of January 29, 1990 Briner Mattern wrote: ‘We believe that the reason for your non-involvement in our defence could be found when checking on the employment of the 50 workers, since we found out that they had been used also to “campaign” for you during election and that part of the money was also used to pay the Youthwingers… I herewith enclose a copy for your knowledge and enabling you to prepare your defence’.

Her second letter, supposedly sent on 5th February was in the same vein: ‘We never understood why you did not get up to defend your point in this case: It was you who arranged and signed all the agreements. It is your area and it is also your political future which they destroy’.

But Troon only had Briner-Mattern’s word that the letters had been sent, or the phone calls made. There is no record that Dr Ouko had ever received or read them, or that they had ever been sent at all.

In his ‘Final Report Troon wrote: ‘I have found no independent evidence that Dr Ouko actually received a letter’.

And again: ‘Papers in relation to the BAK allegations which may have been in the possession of Dr Ouko have not been found by the British investigators’.

Despite the total lack of solid evidence Troon accepted Briner-Mattern’s version of events: ‘I can only rely on what she says concerning the letters, the only supportive evidence is circumstantial...’

One of Troon’s officers checked the records of all phone calls made from Dr Ouko’s office, his homes in Loresho and Koru, and even his Bata shoe shop in Kisumu, from August 1989 to February 1990 but found no record of any calls made to Briner-Mattern, or BAK’s office in Switzerland as Briner-Mattern claimed there had been.

No one, not even Marianne Briner-Mattern, ever claimed to have seen the alleged corruption report on the Kisumu Molasses Project. No one else mentioned it in their testimony. And no corruption report was ever found.

As a motive for murdering Robert Ouko the timing of the Kisumu Molasses theory is also not credible..

BAK were first involved in July 1987. They were effectively dropped from the project in March 1988 when Dalmas Otieno becomes Minister of Industry after the election. Why would anyone kill Ouko over it two years later?


Troon accepted into his report the testimony of Marianne Briner-Mattern and Domenico Airaghi because he said they were ‘fundamentally truthful’ and ‘honest’ and they ran a ‘reputable company.

By any measure you wish to take they were not honest or truthful and their company did not have a reputation to defend.

Troon’s reason for believing Briner-Mattern and Airaghi rested entirely on his personal assessment of their characters. He said as much in his Final Report:  ‘Before I outline these allegations I must stress that, in my opinion, both these witnesses have the reputation of both themselves and their company at stake in various African countries…’

At the Public Inquiry Troon stated: “ …as far as I assessed those witnesses, they were truthful and honest witnesses, and having talked to them my Lords, it was conveyed to me that they were under a reputable company and I accepted that face value and t hat is why I have included it in my reports my Lords.”

So, Troon accepted Briner-Mattern and Airaghi at face value, no need to check the facts.


 But Briner-Mattern and Airaghi were not truthful or honest.

On the 14th March 1987 Domenico Airaghi had been convicted in the Civil and Criminal Court in Milan on charges of attempted extortion.

Throughout the entire time that Ouko and Troon were dealing with him, Airaghi was a convicted criminal, out on bail awaiting his appeal.

Although she was not charged, Briner-Mattern was his accomplice and gave evidence in Airaghi’s defence.

In passing sentence the judge said: “The particularly despicable nature of the offence, the attributes of an international fortune-hunter displayed by Airaghi…’

In court Marianne Briner-Mattern described herself as a “secretary” of “International Escort”, an “employment agency”. There was no mention of BAK.

The judge dismissed her testimony: “Finally, a compassionate veil must be drawn over the testimony of Marianne Brinner, who lived with Airaghi… The personal and professional relationship between Brinner and Airaghi also reveals the full extent of the unreliability of the witness”.

The judge at the Milan Court of Appeal upheld Airaghi’s conviction and he too was dismissive of Briner-Mattern’s testimony: “… no credence should be given to the statement by the witness, Marianne Briner...  not only due to the fact that she co-habits with Airaghi but also that the information supplied by her... is unsafe”.


Airgahi’s trials proved that he and Briner-Mattern, who he called his “mole”, had attempted blackmail by making menacing phone calls threatening to reveal information they claimed to have had.

When found out Airaghi tried to defend himself by producing letters where the dates had been changed, or for which there was no record of them ever being sent or received.

Brinner-Mattern too was found by the judge to have changed the dates to her evidence and referred to information that the judge said “cannot be true”.


As for their “reputable” company BAK – it was a sham. There is no evidence of it ever trading in fact it didn’t even legally exist.

In the three years from 1987 to 1990 ‘BAK’ gave two different addresses, both low rent offices in Baden, and used four different names.

Only the last of these was formally incorporated under Swiss law, ‘BAK Group Marianne-Briner & Partner’ which was registered on the 13th February, 1990 – the day that Dr Robert Ouko was murdered.

Before Ouko’s murder Briner-Mattern was claiming $150,000 for alleged losses incurred over the Molasses project. After his death the claim increased to just under $6 million.


Troon did not read the Kenyan government file on the Kisumu Molasses project, even though it was offered to him. He did not personally interview Domenico Airaghi. He admitted at the Public Inquiry that he did not read Airaghi’s diaries because they were in Italian. He made no inquires with the Italian or Swiss authorities. And Troon admitted he had made no inquiries into the background of BAK, Briner-Mattern or Domenico Airaghi.

At the Public Inquiry MrJustice Evans Gicheru posed the question to Mr Ishan Kaplia, what should Troon have done?

Kapila response was quite devastating:  “I would have expected him my lords to first check on its registered office and then check on what its share capital was, to then check its reputation in Italy and Switzerland and in Africa, to check which projects they have carried out anywhere in the world. There are a number of things that have to be done my Lords, I am not a policeman but I would think you cannot do without it.”

But Troon did none of these things.

Troon’s Kisumu Molasses theory was based on the unsupported and conflicting testimony of a convicted extortionist and his willing accomplice – Domenico Airaghi and Marianne Briner-Mattern.

Their “reputable” company did not exist.

They had lied to the Kenyan government, they had lied to Dr Ouko and they had lied to the Scotland Yard detective John Troon.

There was no evidence of corruption and no corruption report was ever found.

The Kisumu Molasses theory as a motive for Dr Ouko’s murder is completely without foundation.

Martin Minns produced the documentary Murder at Got Alila: Who killed Dr Robert Ouko and why?