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JOURNALISTIC ETHICS AND STANDARDS

The inside story of Julian Assange, Wikileaks and Kenya Kroll report

In Summary

• Some Kenyan commentators have all but claimed Assange as one of their own.

• In October 2006, Wikileaks.org was registered in Nairobi under the name ‘John Shipton’.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange holds a copy of a U.N. ruling as he makes a speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy, in central London, Britain February 5, 2016.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange holds a copy of a U.N. ruling as he makes a speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy, in central London, Britain February 5, 2016.
Image: REUTERS

“You have to start with the truth. The truth is the only way that we can get anywhere. Because decision-making that is based upon lies or ignorance can’t lead to a good conclusion”.

Thus was Julian Assange, Wikileaks’ founder, often quoted in the last few days since his ejection from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has lived in exile for the last seven years.

Some Kenyan commentators have all but claimed Assange as one of their own on the basis that Kenya is where the Wikileaks story began and its founder propelled to international notoriety, where journalism and ‘journalistic ethics’ were supposedly ‘redefined in a digital age’.

 
 
 

The true story of Assange’s Kenya connection is far more problematic in terms of its outcome for journalistic standards and ethics.

In October 2006, Wikileaks.org was registered in Nairobi under the name ‘John Shipton’, the name of Assange’s father, the father he never met.

Wikileaks’ registered address in Kenya was given as ‘Nairobi, c/o WLK P.O Box 8098-00200’, the same address as that for the Mars Group, ‘a leadership, governance, accountability and media watchdog’.

Mars Group Kenya was opened by Mwalimu Mati with his wife Jayne, in December 2006, partly funded by the UK’s Department for International Development.

It was the part publication in August 2007 of a report by the international ‘risk consulting company’ Kroll that brought Wikileaks and its founder to fame.

In December 2003, Kroll had delivered a report into alleged high-level corruption in Kenya, commissioned by the Kenyan government that had promised a break with past corruption,

A further ‘Consolidated Report’ was delivered to the Kenyan government in April 2004 but was not published at the time, although some details of the report appeared in the UK newspaper, the Observer, in March 2005, alleging that Sh78 billion ($1 billion) in assets were held in London for leaders of President Daniel Moi’s regime.

 
 
 

For three-and-a-half years, the delivery and content of the Kroll Report remained a secret. Only a handful of people knew of its existence, those who sat on the committee, and it seems, the US embassy and the UK High Commission in Nairobi.

What was said to be Kroll’s ‘Consolidated Report’ was published in part via an anonymous ‘Wikileak’ on the Internet on August 30, 2007, and the basis of the allegations in The Nation and the UK newspaper The Guardian, on August 31,  2007.

The Kroll report made specific and serious allegations of fraud against several individuals, including former President Moi, his sons Gideon and Philip, and Nicholas Biwott, by then a former Cabinet minister but still a Member of Parliament.

None were interviewed or given a chance to challenge the allegations made in the report. Assange referred to the Kroll report as the “holy grail of Kenyan journalism” and later said, “I went there [Kenya] in 2007 and got hold of it”.

In fact, the Kroll report was leaked to Mwalimu Mati at the Mars Group, who said that “Someone dumped it on our laps”. Mars Group, in effect, published it via Wikileaks under the headline, ‘The missing Kenyan billions’.

The timing of the Kenya Kroll report’s ‘publication’ was interesting, 100 days before Kenya’s presidential and parliamentary elections in 2007 and just three days after Moi and Biwott announced they were backing President Mwai Kibaki.

Kibaki’s main opponent in the election was Raila Odinga, who had sat on the ‘Cabinet Committee against Corruption’ that appointed Kroll.

The Kenyan Link

In October 2006, Wikileaks.org was registered in Nairobi under the name ‘John Shipton’, the name of Assange’s father, the father he never met.

Wikileaks’ registered address in Kenya was given as ‘Nairobi, c/o WLK P.O Box 8098-00200’, the same address as that for the Mars Group, ‘a leadership, governance, accountability and media watchdog’.

Was it a coincidence that the Kroll report was leaked at a critical point in the run-up to the elections?

On Friday August 31, 2007, a Wikileaks ‘spin doctor’, in reality, Julian Assange, when asked why the report’s publication had been rushed, replied “Political timing”.

He later boasted that the leaking of the report had “swung the election” by “shifting the vote 10 per cent” and thereby “changed the world”: Maybe it did but ethical journalism it wasn’t.

It is clear that several pages from Kroll’s 2004 ‘Consolidated Report’ were removed before it was leaked and that the ‘Report’ as published is not complete. The missing pages have never been made public.

The allegations against several other individuals named in the report had also been removed. The index refers to ‘targets’ 1, 2, 3, and 7, but the sections relating to targets 4, 5, and 6 were not published, which raises the question: Who were Kroll’s targets 4, 5, and 6 and why were the allegations against them not published? Was that down to politics and “political timing” too?

The report as leaked is also not a professionally competent piece of work, containing multiple errors and displaying a failure to undertake even basic due diligence.

Sources for the Kroll report were not revealed, either given codenames – ‘Laundryman’, ‘Msamaha’ or ‘’Source A’ – or referred to as an ‘open source’ (i.e. the newspapers) and in many instances, no source at all was cited.

The multiple failings of the Kroll report displayed in its allegations against Biwott provide telling examples and can be cited objectively because they cannot benefit him posthumously (Biwott died in July 2017).

Kroll

The report’s authors stated that Biwott, when ‘Minister of Communications’, had awarded a contract to ‘Team Simoco’ of which he was a shareholder. He was never Minister of Communications and had no links with or a shareholding in Team Simoco.

Biwott, Kroll alleged, owned 40 per cent shares in Safaricom and likewise 40 per cent of Bank Belgolaise. A simple search of publicly available information would have proved that he did not.

Kroll also trotted out the hardy perennial that Biwott owned commercial property in Israel and Australia and in particular a 10,000-hectare ranch in Australia (fake news that has often been spread in the Kenya press, Forbes magazine, embassy reports and on multiple websites).

Biwott, however, had no commercial interest in either country. The assertion that he did originate from the unsupported hearsay testimony of one James Onyango K’Oyoo, now the  MP for Muhoroni. Why K’Oyoo made these unfounded allegations only he can say.

Kroll stated that a Horatius da Gama Rose was one of Biwott’s lawyers who ‘had been involved in questionable links’ and been given a ‘questionable contract’ by Kenya’s Treasury — but Kroll had got the wrong lawyer. Biwott’s lawyer was a Mirabeau da Gama Rose: same surname, different law firm, no question of wrong-doing.

The Kroll report was actually written by two young women, Tara O’Connor (aged 28) and a Dudu ‘Mara Moon’ Douglas-Hamilton (aged 24) and was, in fact, largely based on just two press reports carried in the East African Standard in April and May 2002.

When the Kroll Report was published, the Kenyan government publicly stated that it could not act on it because it contained only rumour and gossip, and was incomplete and inaccurate. Government spokesman ( now Governor of Machakos) Alfred Matua said, “We did not find that report was credible. It was based on a lot of hearsay”.

Kroll meanwhile immediately closed its East Africa office and refused to comment.

Julian Assange is now wanted in the UK (skipping bail), the US (computer hacking) and Sweden (sexual assault and rape).

I want to stress, however, that Julian Assange is innocent: He has not had a chance to challenge his accusers; allegations have been made against him but the facts have yet to be deduced; he has not been found guilty in a properly functioning court of law; and he remains innocent unless and until he is found guilty in law.

It’s a pity that such basic tenets of natural justice were not adhered to by  Assange, Wikileaks, Kroll, Mwalimu Mati, and US and UK diplomats. You have to start with the truth.

Martin Minns is a communications consultant and documentary filmmaker based in Kenya. [email protected] (0712 355 579)