Ever since he was poisoned at a restaurant in Muthaiga, Nairobi, which he frequented, and on the day that the Foreign Affairs minister, Dr Robert Ouko, went missing in 1990, Prof Saitoti had become edgy.“He would only eat his food at select places. He even fired his cook after he found him at State House,” a close family friend says.
For years, Prof Saitoti had three trusted security confidantes, Inspector Tonkei, Mr Michael ole Tanchu, who was his personal assistant, and a bodyguard, Mr Samson ole Surtan, from Kilgoris, whom he fondly referred to simply as SS.
Prof Saitoti was booked in Room 213 of Mombasa Continental Resort, where the workshop was held.
Without informing anyone, he slipped out of his room and checked into another hotel. He gave the key to his bodyguard, Inspector Joshua Tonkei.
Those who knew the professor say that he became very cautious after the attempt on his life and that he refused to stay at the Nairobi Hospital, where he was admitted.
“He was taken home in an ambulance and a room in his house was turned into a ward,” a source says. “It is only when he required blood transfusion to clear the poison from his system that he would be taken back.”
Prof Saitoti’s illness was never reported in the mainstream media and neither was his hospitalization — although it was common knowledge. Those who saw him say his skin was literally peeling off.
But when he returned after a few months, Prof Saitoti denied rumours that he had been poisoned. He would later say that he did not know those who killed Dr Ouko because he “was unconscious when Ouko was being killed”.
This was after President Moi had told a public meeting that the people who killed Dr Ouko were the same ones who “poisoned my vice-president”.
“If it were not for the treatment he received, Saitoti would have died then,” a family source says.
Another reason why Prof Saitoti was uneasy was the mysterious death of Mohammed Aslam in 1991, soon after giving crucial evidence to the commission inquiring into the February 1990 grisly death of Dr Ouko.
By this time Prof Saitoti was convinced that his poisoning was an attempt on his life. Aslam, then chairman of Pan African Bank was Prof Saitoti’s friend and would frequent his Treasury office looking for favors as he started building the Grand Regency Hotel (now Laico Regency).
The Grand Regency Hotel was built by the family of the late Mohamed Aslam, who controlled Pan African Bank.
Aslam was involved in the Goldenberg scandal and after his death, his family sold the Grand Regency to Mr Kamlesh Pattni’s company, the Uhuru Highway Development Ltd.
Returns of Pan African Bank show that besides Aslam, who held majority shares through Plaza Investments Limited, other shareholders, included then State House Comptroller Abraham Kiptanui and a Mr Hedam.
Some of the shares were later transferred to Kimya Investments and Mr M.H. da Gama Rose.
When Aslam sought to build the hotel in 1985, the fully paid-up capital of 2,000 shares was divided between Daniel arap Moi (800), Aslam (1,020), C. Kirubi (80), W. Murungi (60) and G. Lindi (40).
As the Minister for Finance, Prof Saitoti found himself at the heart of these intricate transactions; a web that he could never leave at will.
At the Treasury, he had walked into businessman Kamlesh Pattni’s Goldenberg International conundrum and approved a proposal to give the company compensation and monopoly for the export of non-existent diamonds and gold.
Four months after he was poisoned, he had returned to Treasury to prepare for the June 1990 Budget Speech.
Behind the scenes, Hezekiah Oyugi, the influential Permanent Secretary in the President’s Office, had pushed for a gold export compensation scheme for approval by the Treasury.
Then, the company involved was Arum Limited and months before Prof Saitoti was poisoned, he had received a note from Mr John Keen, who was an Assistant Minister of State in the Office of the President, suggesting that gold exporters be granted a subsidy to compete favourably with smugglers.
As he recovered, the Commissioner of Mines and Geology wrote to Arum saying an inter-ministerial decision was being awaited.
In the Budget Speech of June 7, 1990, Prof Saitoti announced that the export compensation scheme “be expanded and supplemented with an import duty exemption scheme”.
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