Nicholas Biwott, Israelis and Mossad connection

This is the other story of Mr Kipyator Nicholas Kiprono arap Biwott, the diminutive power baron of Nyayo era.

But why would a man be so paranoid, to an extent of changing cars after only a short distance drive?

In the November 1975 Gazette notice, a company that did not have the mandatory registered office appeared on page 1327.

The only information given was that it had a nominal capital of Sh20,000 and its name — Lima Limited. Its business was to import farm machinery.

JAMES KANYOTU

On the same page was another company that had also been registered: Kawakanja Limited. It belonged to James Kanyotu, the head of Special Branch.

Whether this was a coincidence, we don’t know – only that the two appeared together.

What is now known is that the owners of Lima Limited were Nicholas Biwott, Vice-President and Minister for Home Affairs Daniel arap Moi and a new Israeli resident in Kenya, Mr Vaizman Aharoni – a bespectacled civil engineer who was a friend of an Israeli medic, Dr David Silverstein, to an extent that in 1984 they both received the Commonwealth Community of the Year Award presented by Gordon Brown.

Aharoni had arrived in Nairobi in 1973 as an employee of two Israeli construction companies, Solel Boneh and later Gad Zeevis HZ Company.

MOSSAD

In many countries where it operated, Solel Boneh, a giant construction cooperative of the Histadrut — the Israeli workers’s body — provided, knowingly, some legal cover for Mossad, not only in Africa but in various countries where they operated including Iraq. Its senior employees were Mossad operatives too.

The arrival of Aharoni came at a time when Kenya had just severed diplomatic ties with Israel following the Yom Kippur War, perhaps the most intense military clash in the history of the Arab-Israeli rivalry.

But although Kenya had severed relations with the Jewish state, it was never hostile to it and Jews were friendly to many government functionaries.

TECHNICAL AID

As Israel halted direct technical aid to countries that had severed ties to it, such aid was passed over via construction companies which were subsidised to carry out major construction works.

At most, they would tender, under cost and win.

We cannot be sure whether HZ was such a company but the Kenya Gazette notice of March 1973 indicates the company applied for registration locally.

The year 1975 was bad for Israel. The Lebanese Civil War had broken out and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation had been expelled from its Tunis headquarters, forcing many sympathisers to South Yemen where terror group cells from East Germany, West Germany and their Soviet trainers had arrived in droves.

OASIS CLUB

The Mossad increased its level of espionage, spies and secret operations worldwide, hunting down those opposed to the State of Israel.

In Nairobi, the operations would be at the Oasis Club where Gordon Thomas, the author of Gideon Spies, says that revellers here “were not there for the cold beer or what the club advertised as ‘hottest girls in Africa’.

These men worked for intelligence services fighting to gain a foothold in central Africa, where once only Britain’s M16 had secretly operated.”

He goes on: “Within the club’s stifling atmosphere, plots were hatched, deals made, targets identified for execution or destruction.”

FORTUNES CHANGED

That was how the 1970s were by the time Gad Zeevi arrived in Kenya in 1978 at a time when one of his employees was a director in a company owned by Kenya’s new President.

With Gad Zeevi and Aharoni in tow, Mr Biwott’s fortunes could only change for the better.

He was to become the front for Mr Biwott in the new Kenya that emerged after President Jomo Kenyatta’s death.

As Mr Biwott was preparing to enter into politics, Mr Zeevi was registered as an engineer in December 1978 in a note signed by P.W. Wambura, then registrar of Engineers Registration Board.

CONTRACTS

Mr Zeevi had come to Nairobi with a purpose: His company was looking for big contracts in the country — a place of lucrative deals. Biwott did not even campaign for the Keiyo South seat, after the former MP withdrew in his favour. By then, Biwott and Gad Zeevi were 39 – and Biwott had a Jewish wife.

Biwott’s rise was fast. In only a few months, he had been catapulted from being a director of the nondescript Lima Limited to a Minister of State in the Office of the President.

It was one of the most powerful positions in Kenya.

SIMEON NYACHAE

At the OP were the likes of Jeremiah Kiereini, then Permanent Secretary for Defence, Simeon Nyachae, PS for Development Coordination, and GG Kariuki, Minister of State in charge of Internal Security.

Of all these, Biwott was a greenhorn – but was the man Moi trusted most.

Reason: He could keep secrets to his heart. There was another reason for that: Moi was going through a messy divorce at the High Court which was not reported in public.

As contracts for HZ started rolling, money flowed easily – and insatiable greed found space at the national coffers. Demands for kickback became a national pastime.

FORCED TO SHUT

In 1982, shortly after several local banks collapsed, or were forced to shut, Biwott and Alnoor Kassam brought on board Gad Zeevi and they started the Trade Bank on the grounds of a former disco club.

Zeevi owned 75 per cent shareholding of the bank. It was this bank that would lend Biwott — and HZ — money to build Yaya Centre.

But Biwott refused to repay the money and Kassam, fearing for his life, escaped to Canada where he tried to become the Mayor of Calgary.

Back in Kenya, newspapers said that he had stolen $23 million leading to the collapse of the bank.

ESCAPED

But Kassam says he escaped after he was threatened with death. “May be I should have been Christ or Mandela and been jailed or died … I did not take money from Kenya. My conscience is clear,” he told Canada’s Calgary Herald.  The man who wanted him out of the way was Biwott.

Another new entrant into the banking scene was a Pakistani national, Mohammed Aslam, who had opened Pan African Bank together with a director identified in records as HEDAM (which means H.E. Daniel arap Moi) and Abraham Kiptanui, the former State House Comptroller.

Aslam would later die mysteriously after he testified and gave crucial evidence to the commission inquiring into the February 1990 grisly death of Dr Robert Ouko, in which Scotland Yard investigators had implicated Biwott.

THEIR ENEMIES

One can unravel the mystery of Biwott by looking at the contacts that he and Gad Zeevi made.

In 1987, Moi made a trip to the US with Mr Biwott as part of the delegation.

A year-old crackdown on dissent had started in Kenya with mysterious deaths and disappearances.

In Washington, and at his hotel, Gad Zeevi brought in a visitor.

It was the British-born Israeli spymaster David Kimche, who was nicknamed “the man with the suitcase” by those who knew him.

RESEARCH DEPARTMENT

Kimche was known in several African countries and was one of the founders of Mossad.

He was in charge of “creating their research department and recruiting and directing operatives all over the world,” according to the British Independent newspaper.

In Africa, various people thought he was a journalist – though he had worked as a night editor with Jerusalem Post before he joined the newly-formed Mossad intelligence agency in 1953, rising to the post of deputy director.

In the 1960s, he had been sent to Africa to set up “listening posts” and operated as a diplomat with the cover name David Sharon.

MAJOR COUP

Nairobi’s Oasis Club was one of those posts. Journalists loved him as a source of information.

He had another side too: It is said that Kimche would appear in an African state a day or two before a major coup with a briefcase and leave a week after a new government had been installed.

That is the man who was behind the Zanzibar coup of 1964.

By the time he was introduced to Moi and Biwott in March 1987, Kimche was working as the director-general of Israel’s Foreign ministry and with a dream of becoming the chief of Mossad.

TROUBLE

But Kimche would run Ronald Reagan into trouble over the Iran-Contra Affair after the spymaster engineered the swap of American hostages in Lebanon for sale of arms to Iran, touching off what became the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s.

He also gave people ideas on how to deal with their enemies.

In his autobiography, Special Trust, former US national security adviser Robert C.

“Bud” McFarlane reveals how Kimche in 1985 proposed the assassination of Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in order to clear the path for a more moderate Iranian faction.

McFarlane also writes that Kimche told him “there was a way of gradually infusing poison, that [Khomeini] would consume presumably in food.”

EXTREMELY WEALTHY

That was the company that Biwott’s business partner Gad Zeevi kept.

Gad Zeevi had also grown extremely wealthy thanks to the Kenyan contracts and owned part of Haifa’s Grand Canyon Mall, and real estate throughout Israel, Eastern Europe and the US.

In June 1987, he bought a 38,000 barrel-a-day refinery for $100 million from Chevron USA Inc.

In Nairobi, the fortunes of Mr Biwott increased as HZ became the main contractor for government jobs.

CONTRACT

There was also a clandestine working association between HZ and Solel Boneh which was revealed in Parliament by Abuya Abuya.

He claimed the two companies would bid for the same contract and whoever won was sub-contracted by the other.

This way, the two dominated the government contracts in the 80s delaying many construction works as a result.

It was when he was appointed to the cash cow Ministry of Energy that Biwott now turned to multi-billion-shilling oil and petroleum companies.

In Israel Gad Zeevi had set up Paz, Israel’s largest oil marketing company, and he surprised everyone when he purchased the interests of a US Mobil oil company in Kenya and renamed it Kobil to the consternation of the US multinational.

BOUGHT AIRLINE

He also bought an airline, Air Kenya, plus various other investments.

In 1990, as the country was going through the Goldenberg theft and pressure for pluralism, Mr Biwott managed to snatch the investments that they co-owned.

In Israel, Gad Zeevi owned Israel’s largest hospital, largest shopping mall and is the biggest importer of Subaru cars and spare parts.

That Biwott ended up with a large stake of the business empire they had built — was perhaps the biggest con game of the century.

CHANGE CARS

Zeevi returned to Israel to run Zeevi Group – and Biwott started a life of paranoia.

He would change cars at the next bend, never order his own food and always thought somebody was after him.

Nobody knows who or what he was dodging — and he died with that secret. We can only speculate.

Rest in peace Total Man.

The former Cabinet minister passed on at his home in Kileleshwa.

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