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HomeWealthCharles Omondi: The Man Who Pulled Off Kenya's 'Heist of the Century'

Charles Omondi: The Man Who Pulled Off Kenya’s ‘Heist of the Century’

Over the years, there are a number of robberies that have been carried out in Kenya targeting banks and other moneyed institutions. In some cases, the heist goes according to plan, but in some, it ends up with the perpetrators behind bars or dead.

When we think of money heists, our minds immediately go to masked gunmen walking into a bank firing into the air and forcing everyone inside the bank to empty the cash into sacks, tie up the guards and hop into a waiting van before they are trailed by police. Or that’s at least what we see in the movies.

However, in Kenya, one man managed to pull off what is arguably the heist of the century, after he strolled into the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), unarmed and walked out with $1 million (approximately Ksh113 million at today’s rates).

Charles Omondi drove into JKIA one night on  January 5, 1997, with fake documents allowing his company, Chaco Inter-Afric Enterprises, to act as a clearing agent for Citibank for a package that had been sent from New York.

He was armed with only one thing, his confidence. His plan, pick up a package on behalf of the bank and disappear. And that is exactly what he did.

The plan was perfectly executed that no one noticed that it was a robbery. Omondi walked into the freight company and left with an 11 Kg bag stashed with $1 million dollars. It belonged to the bank’s Fedha Towers, Muindi Bingu Street branch.

They only realised that it was a heist after the real clearance company arrived the following morning.

Citibank and the Police worked together to investigate the theft. A reward of Ksh250,000 was issued and Omondi’s picture was circulated. The reward was later increased to Ksh1 million.

However, detectives also wanted to know why the bank transported such huge sums of money in the form of cargo. They questioned why the money wasn’t transferred using more modern means.

The money Omondi fled with was in 100 dollar bills ranging in serial numbers between AE60742001-AE60752000A. Banks in the regions were asked to report to the Central Bank fraud section if those notes were found, in the hope of picking up the trail of the lost money. Telephone numbers of the bank and the police were circulated.

Omondi fled, and for a year and three months, he lived in Tanzania and Congo. All this time, he was spending the money. He eventually sneaked back into Kenya.

“Detectives have traced the suspect to the neighbouring country. He used the road, contrary to earlier reports that he flew out of the country. He was followed by the police to the border between Kenya and Tanzania,” a senior officer was quoted by the Standard.

On March 12, 1998, police got a domestic violence call in Buruburu. They responded to the scene and arrested the man of the house, only to find that he was one of Kenya’s most wanted man, Omondi.

He had almost gotten away with the heist of the century, only to be arrested because he was fighting with his wife over why she had moved houses in his absence. Neighbours called the police when they heard a commotion of some sort of a domestic fight in Omondis’ house.

“Those who called officers from the Buru Buru Police Station were concerned about the fight. Policemen who went to the house had no idea about the person they were going to arrest,” a senior officer was quoted by the Standard as saying.

At the time there were two theories about how the arrest went down. The police had their side of the story, the people had their side of the story. It was claimed that the police came up with the theories to avoid paying the Ksh1 million bounty.

During trial, claimed that he was innocent. He told the court that a man called Martin Njoroge of Citibank once called on him and made him an agent of the bank. The man allegedly gave him false IDs. He used these to collect the cash, and did not know the man was a con, he said. The court did not believe him.

“I went through the normal clearing procedure,” he said, claiming he had handed the money to Njoroge.

Omondi served three years in jail and was released in 2002 through a presidential pardon.