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US ‘hacking’ case couple end 35-day agony in cells

An American couple arrested for suspicion of being involved in cybercrime was deported on Tuesday night, after 35 days in custody.

Larry Peckham and Denise Huitron, have been in detention at the Muthaiga police station, despite being cleared of cybercrime.

The couple was deported at 10pm on Tuesday aboard a Lufthansa Airlines flight after the court handed them over to Immigration officials because their visas had expired.

Their lawyer, Mr Ronald Oyieko, had said the couple’s two laptops and five phones had not been given back to them. But the Daily Nation established on Wednesday morning that their belongings were returned a few minutes before the plane took off.

In an interview at Muthaiga police station, the couple said they were arrested for a crime they did not know anything about, but admitted they had been in touch with Calvin Ogolla, the prime suspect in the Kenya Revenue Authority system hacking syndicate.

“We were arrested because police thought we were involved in cybercrime, since we had communicated with the man they said was a main suspect but police later said they did not have any evidence linking us to cybercrime,” Mr Peckham said.

He said he had come to Kenya to follow up on a case where his company was defrauded of Sh40 million and wanted to find out if he would get it back.

“For three years, I have not been able to solve the mystery and someone referred me to Calvin Ogola whom he said was a banker who would help me with solving the mystery. I had a 10-minute meeting with him. I had never met him before and when we did, he told me that he was actually an IT expert,” Mr Peckham said.

He said, however, that when police arrested him a month later, they told him that he had been communicating with Ogola. Police arrested the couple together with Ogola, who is a former police officer, a businessman, Alex Mutunga Mutuku, two Kenya Revenue Authority employees and 13 other suspects in connection with the hacking of the Kenya Revenue Authority systems.

“When police came to my house, they said I was a Russian who came into the country to help him (Ogola) hack into the systems of banks.

“I am an American and I am not good with electronics at all; I have been in Muthaiga police station with my wife, in squalid conditions for 35 days,” Mr Peckham said.

His wife, Denise, said she never understood why she was arrested, yet she had not been in touch with any of the suspects.

“We were detained at the police station for three days before we were taken to court. Then we have been unlawfully detained for all this time, even after police failed to produce evidence linking us to cybercrime. We could not renew our visas because we were broke,” she said.

The immigration law provides for the removal of an offending foreigner from the country immediately and they should remain out of Kenya either indefinitely or for such a period as may be specified by the government.

The suspects in the taxman’s hacking case were arraigned in court with some of them, including the couple, being released. Police have continued to detain some, including Ogolla, Mutuku and others.

Ogolla was attached to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations.

He is expected at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport court today for a ruling on the cybercrime case.

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