By Francis Midega (Correspondent)
In the lead up to the launch of Kingdom Bank, police detectives rounded up several bloggers and blog administrators and those who had published stories bordering on the country’s third largest bank – Cooperative Bank of Kenya.
Several were picked from their residences and held incommunicado for five-six days before they were released without any charges.
The idea behind the clandestine arrests was to silence the alternative voice in the country’s media in a characteristic way that the bank has applied in its modus operandi for a long time.
They were branded as extortionists for allegedly publishing stories touching on the bank. Ostensibly, the reason for the arrest was make sure that the investors in the bank were not disturbed ahead of the launch that has its fair share of doubts within the banking sector.
Most of those arrested over the week that the bank deployed police to crush the dissenting voices or those seen to the against the bank’s ideals, are traumatised and too scared to talk about the ordeal that included torture and humiliation and constant threats.
In the wake of the arrests, many blogs pulled down stories on Cooperative Bank and its CEO Gideon Muriuki. Indeed, very few stories can be found on social media about the bank and its senior management.
Early December, one of the country’s leading and bravest bloggers Disembe Dikembe, penned a story in kenya-today.com that shook the whole country in its prose and content.
Disembe, in the story lunged on a document released in August and suppressed by the mainstream media with only premier business content publisher Business Daily giving it a mention.
The story was picked up and obviously pulled down for many reasons know tp the journalists. Kenyagist.com (https://www.kenyagist.com/banking-scam-co-operative-bank-being-looted-dry-to-launch-kingdom-bank) still has the story online after various attempts to shoot it down failed.
Other newspapers, despite having the illustrations and contents including interviews from interested parties and stakeholders, chose to play it down for obvious reasons.
The shocker that the Disembe story exposed includes a fact that most people in the media know and have all the facts but fear reprisals from the bank and its financial muscle.
Later, the Disembe story was pulled down in a move that people feel was unfair.
Effort to corroborate the story was confirmed by those arrested as much as they are fearful of the outcome of the interviews. It is only when they are promised that the story is balanced that they open up, though they all demand for anonymity.
“I don’t want to speak about the ordeal. I was picked up from my house and taken to several police stations. My mistake is that someone planted a story on my blog. My blog was a small one and the designer planted a story that left me in pain and I regret having had the story on my blog.
“I was taken by the investigators to the station and I wrote a statement on the same. We were released after some days but we were given warnings on what to say and further punishment. I was told that we are being used to fight and publish negative stories about Cooperative Bank,” says one of those detained for days.
The victim says he is on consultation with the bank and his family’s lawyers on what to next after the ordeal that left him traumatised and fearful. He has since relocated to county in Eastern Kenya.
Another victim was more blunt about his experience in the hands of the police and the bank as he prepares to make a move at the courts for justice. He says that he was threatened with death, castration and even his family members’ arrest.
“To be honest, I don’t care what they do to me. I was picked up from the house and driven around Nairobi in different police stations. My only mistake was to carry a story on a blog I was administering. I am sure that is not a crime. But, the fact that the bank told us they can spend money to get us from wherever we are is testament to a fact they are ready to do evil. I will be moving to court and I will sue the bank for the illegal arrest and detention,” a blogger only know as JK told this writer.
On a wider scope, the efforts by Cooperative Bank to stay clean have a long history.
Starting with the IPO in 2008, a report by Mars Group lifted lid on the underhand dealings that saw management and senior staff members benefit immensely. The story was carried by wazua.co.ke (http://m.wazua.co.ke/forum.aspx?g=posts&t=27050&p=2).
Various other stories have been written, mainly from sources within the bank touching on the management and other personal issues affecting the bank.
Another blog, the Sun Weekly reported a serious malfunction on the systems that led to customers losing their money. (http://thesunweekly.co.ke/panic-as-coop-bank-systems-experience-downturn-amid-fears-of-hacking/).
But, the stories of the bank do not end with management. They are extended to the bosses. In another blog The World News, it is reported that the bank CEO Gideon Muriuki is involved in a fight with a set of squatters who have laid claim to a piece of land in Nairobi’s Embakasi https://theworldnews.net/ke-news/exposed-inside-fraudulent-exercise-in-the-gideon-muriuki-led-cooperative-bank
In another shocking story former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonkoposted on his Facebook page about dealing between the bank and a blogger Mildred Atty Owiso in which the fiery politician accused the Marketing director Ngumo Kahiga of paying money to suppress social media stories https://www.facebook.com/GovernorMikeSonkoMbuvi/posts/2548076675230665.
It is further claimed in media circles that some of the country’s bloggers have been silenced by the bank after being paid millions of shillings.
More to come…