The more fantastic they made their claims, the more people fell under their spell.
They ranged from brazen liars to perfect and polished con artists.
They came as swindlers, conmen, opportunists, ne’er-do-wells and charlatans.
Some came in the name of God – and when they were finished with their gullible and at times unsuspecting victims, they simply disappeared whence they came from.
The more fantastic they made their claims – the more Kenyans fell under their spell.
The media, public officials and big corporates, all fell for their tricks.
We bring you the story of the biggest confidence tricksters of the last 50 years.
Eric Awori, the ‘‘champion’’ reverse driver
Eric Awori pulled one of the most adventurous con tricks ever seen in independent Kenya.
It was in 1985, when he convinced the media that he had driven a car in reverse from Mombasa to Nairobi, then to Nakuru, Rongai and back to Nairobi, hoping to break the world record.
Awori had told the press that he practised on “private roads” and was keen on breaking the world record, then held by American Gerald Hoagland.
Westlands Motors gave him a new Toyota Corolla to drive, while many other sponsors donated in cash and kind as Awori prepared to become ‘‘the first African motorist to hold a world record’’.
“I took it as a personal challenge. If this American could do it, why not me?” he told the press after “finishing” the gruelling journey.
For “achieving” that feat, he was feted at a reception held at the Hilton Hotel, where he received the global award.
He then announced to motor company executives that he planned to set off another world breaking record by reversing a 7-tonne lorry from Nairobi to Mombasa.
For that D.T Dobie donated a giant Mercedez-Benz truck which was to be loaded with building materials donated by Mombasa traders for building a new Harambee classroom.
DT Dobie also donated fuel worth Sh10,000, while Daily Nation reported that “Mr John Miller, an independent adjudicator for Guinness Book of Records”, had arrived in Nairobi.
Awori said he planned to leave Mombasa on December 11 and arrive at Uhuru Park on December 12 during the Jamhuri Day celebrations.
Assistant minister Sharrif Nassir flagged off Awori on the night of December 11, but nobody knows what happened after that.
Telex messages were sent to Kenya News Agency on his progress and final arrival in Nairobi.
The last one was from “John Miller” from the Guiness Book of Records “confirming” that Awori had broken another record.
After being celebrated as a Kenyan hero, Awori announced that he was now going to attend the “620-km Kiwi Auto Reverse Rally” in New Zealand’s Newbury Ranch Farm.
The Daily Nation captured the moment he arrived: “A tired-looking Eric Awori and his service crew arrived in Auckland, New Zealand, yesterday morning, where a crowd of about 5,000 enthusiasts of reverse drive were waiting to give him a rousing welcome….
Awori spent about one hour at the airport chatting to the crowd and signing autographs before going to his hotel.
Over 3,500 copies of Daily Nation with Awori’s profile found their way to Auckland yesterday and all copies sold out within half an hour of arrival. More copies have been ordered from Nairobi…”
Daily Nation was one of the sponsors who had lined up to support Awori.
On February 10, 1986, a telex was sent to the newsrooms confirming that “Awori has re-written motoring history by becoming the first African driver ever to win a contest in a European country.”
The papers reported that he had driven his Kenyan assembled Toyota Corolla, and won after driving in reverse for 31 hours 55 minutes “through some of the most rugged murrum and tarmac roads in Auckland.”
He had been “assisted by two Gikomba Jua Kali mechanics 60-year-old Mzee Peter Kuria and Ali Omar”.
But something was not adding up.
There were no photos and the New Zealand High Commission in Nairobi said there was no such event.
Summoned by Daily Nation editors to prove he went to New Zealand, Awori failed to table photographs.
The CID arrested him later and charged him with fraud.
What emerged later was that the truck was actually not driven in reverse from Mombasa.
There was nobody from Guinness.
Awori did not travel to New Zealand.
All the telex sent came from a Nairobi office on Mama Ngina Street where Awori coordinated his lies.
In the few months, he had received air tickets, money, hotel accommodation and gifts worth thousands of shillings.
DICK BERG and the All Africa games
In 1987, Kenya hosted the All Africa games that saw the building of Moi Sports Complex, Kasarani.
During the preparations, one Dick Berg, a US citizen, arrived in Nairobi and told ministry officials that his firm, Berg and Associates, could help collect over Sh224 million for the Nairobi games, having achieved a similar feat for the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.
Unfortunately, nobody checked these facts.
Berg was granted exclusive business rights to market the games and brought on board Coca-Cola and House of Manji among other companies.
According to Henry Kosgey, then minister of Culture and Sports, they did not know that Berg was “an international crook.”
While he was to market the games internationally, the ministry only received Sh5 million before Berg fled out of the country without submitting the final accounts.
He later claimed that he feared for his life and that was the last Kenyans heard of him and the promised Sh224 million.
Mohammed Khashoggi, the fake Saudi billionaire’s son
He told his victims that he was the son of Saudi billionaire Adnan Khashoggi – and that appeared to work.
The 34-year-old Kenyan trickster left an astonishing trail of victims of his wily ruses in Mombasa, Nairobi and London.
British newspapers thought his real name was Fred Achieng’, but nothing else was known about this man who always spotted a Yasser Arafat-style kaffiye and spoke with a refined accent that made his victims believe he was a senior executive of a multinational company with interests in Europe, the US, Asia, and Africa.
Hotels loved him because he was a big spender.
In some four months in UK, he had accrued bills of £200,000 before he was arrested.
The head of CID, Noah Arap Too, later admitted that Mr “Khashoggi” once posed as a security intelligence agent before three five-star hotels took him in, thinking he was an international pianist.
And the man was indeed a talented pianist.
In the 1980s, he was employed as a cabaret artist, and he managed to swindle hundreds of tourists and establishments.
It took the management of one prestigious hotel the whole of 1994 to discover that the man they had contracted to play the piano was a confidence trickster.
In Mombasa, he targeted affluent but gullible business people. Many thought he was a genuine clearing and forwarding executive who could help at the Mombasa port.
The son of a former Permanent Secretary, he booked himself in a presidential suite of a hotel where he accumulated a bill of Sh150,000 before telling managers that they would be paid by Kanyotu International – possibly a reference to the dreaded head of Special Branch, James Kanyotu.
It was from this hotel that he conned a Mombasa businessman of Sh20 million after convincing him that his firm had won a multi-million shilling tender to supply equipment to the Kenya Ports Authority.
He had told the businessman that he (Khashoggi) could help the businessman to procure the equipment cheaply since he had links to crane manufacturing companies in Europe.
In 1988, a British court had convicted the then 26-year-old of fraud and theft and jailed him for four years.
His victims included hotel tycoon Allen Sheppard, then owner of the Grand Metropolitan Hotel Group, who was conned into giving weeks of five-star hospitality to the penniless guest.
The trickster had approached Mr Sheppard to protest at being kicked out of the Grand Met’s Forum Hotel in London’s West End by the doorman.
He convinced Mr Sheppard that arms dealer Khashoggi was his father forcing the hotelier to apologise and order the Forum to roll out the red carpet for the billionaire’s son. The police later discovered that the man was actually a lowly paid hotel porter!
When George Donde crafted the Development entrepreneurship and Community Initiative (Deci) in 2006, he told his victims that he would double their cash.
They believed him and they lined up with cash hoping to make a fortune after only three months of investing.
The initial “customers” actually got paid, but that only lured them and more others into the trap.
Deci sold its concept through pastors and bishops – who were the first victims.
They convinced their congregations to put money into the scheme.
Another one, Clip Investment Cooperative Society, was promising to pay 120 per cent interest on money collected from members to finance the publication of a Christian book, Rise up Again.
Others which operated along the same “investment” line included Bright Vision, Jitegemee, Akiba Micro Finance, Acid, Sasanet, Kenya Business, Global, Circuit, Swop Silver Ventures, and Fino.
Of these, the most complex was Sasanet, which had been registered in 2003 to offer premium rate and national payphone services.
It created the Sasanet Investment Co-operative Society Limited, which lured investors to put money into the project.
The majority of investors had contributed between Sh1 million and Sh2 million to have a stake in what was to be a multi-billion shilling venture with high returns.
But it was just hype – a high-sounding nothing.
Grace Aluma, the fake Ugandan billionaire
In 1982, Ugandan trickster Grace Aluma arrived in Nairobi masquerading as a billionaire.
She told her gullible listeners that she was engaged in uranium business and was scouting for big deals with the US government, one of her customers.
Top names, including politicians, fell for that ruse and hoping to have a share of the $100 million (Sh8.6 billion at current exchange rate) which Aluma claimed to have in a Kenyan bank.
For those doubting her, she would flash some obviously forged documents as she collected money from various institutions eager to do business with her.
As an “investor”, she had managed to sell her story to some diplomats and was on the verge of selling International Life House to a diplomatic mission when she was smoked out.
But that was not before she had conned Kenya Commercial Bank, Swissair, Westlands Motors, UN consultant Dr Victor Johnson and Bahati MP Fred Omido of significant amounts of money.
Aluma was later jailed for two years on a charge of fraud and conspiracy to defraud a city bank of Sh100,000.
GENERAL MATHENGE, the Ethiopian farmer
Lemma Ayanu was a victim of this con just as were millions of Kenyans.
Amid his government’s and his own protestations, he was flown into Kenya in May 2003 as the missing Mau Mau leader, General Mathenge.
Top leaders had congregated at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to witness the arrival of Gen Mathenge.
Ayanu was accompanied by four of his relatives and for days, former Mau Mau leaders dismissed his credentials.
He could not speak Kikuyu language and only spoke Amharic.
Ethiopian Embassy insisted that Ayanu was an ordinary farmer and wondered why the Kenya government was carrying a DNA test on him.
At the end of the Gen Mathenge episode, the government had spent about Sh1.5 million in accommodation, transport and meals.
In 2004, Mrs Eddah Odera, 56 and post-menopausal, claimed to have given birth to 13 “miracle babies” between 1999 and 2004 with no contact with a man.
The miracle babies turned out to be part of a major human trafficking syndicate involving two clinics in Nairobi, Mrs Mary Juma Deya and her husband Gilbert Deya, who lived in the UK as a “Pastor.”
Mrs Deya and her accomplices were later jailed.
DIBLA AMELIA, the Queen of Sheba
When Dibla Amelia George arrived in Nairobi in the first week of December 2001, she booked herself at the Grand Regency and told those who cared to be conned that she was the Queen of Sheba.
She said she had come to Kenya in search of diamonds.
She was booked by the family of some drug baron into the Presidential suite.
From here, she called a press conference, which was widely covered, to announce that she was seeking opportunities to invest Sh15 billion.
At the Regency, she had accrued a bill of Sh3.4 million, and the hotel security refused to let her leave until she cleared.
Her friends tried to intervene but she ended up before Nairobi Magistrate who released her on a Sh500,000 bond.
On the night of January 30, she was whisked to the airport and the Queen of Sheba disappeared.
In 2006, two Armenians arrived in the country and managed to hoodwink everyone.
Mr Artur Margaryan and Mr Artur Sargsyan were international criminals.
They had managed to worm themselves into the Kenya security system and got “appointed” as Deputy Commissioners of Police.
They had VIP passes for JKIA and wined and dined with the powerful.
They had a house in Runda where they threw overnight parties, drove diplomatic cars and carried pistols openly.
They were implicated in the raid on the Standard Media Group.
After they went berserk at the airport and assaulted immigration officers, President Kibaki sacked the CID director Joseph Kamau and formed a commission of inquiry.
Also implicated was Winnie Wangui, the daughter of the current Othaya MP, Mary Wambui. Winnie was a girlfriend of one of the crooks.
When police raided their Runda home, they found a cache of guns and ammunition, balaclava helmets and a number of T-shirts branded QRU (Quick Response Unit) which the hooded raiders at The Standard Group offices wore.