Del Monte Kenya employees have been alleged to have given bribes in an effort to conceal the details surrounding the deaths of four individuals who attempted to steal pineapples from the company’s farm in December.
The bodies of the men were found in a river on the large farm near Thika on December 24th and 25th of last year. These four individuals were among a group who allegedly fled from the farm’s security guards after attempting to steal pineapples on December 21st.
A joint inquiry by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has revealed accusations that Del Monte Kenya officials tried to offer bribes to various groups of men following the deaths.
According to statements given by members of the group who attempted to steal from the farm, they witnessed their companions being violently attacked by guards using metal rods near the pineapple field. They reported that two individuals were rendered incapable after being thrown into the river by the guards, and that one person was hit in the head with a stone as they attempted to escape by swimming.
During interviews and sworn statements, Del Monte representatives have been accused of providing employment and monetary incentives to individuals who are willing to testify that the men drowned while trying to escape from a failed raid.
The Guardian has viewed reports on the deaths of two individuals, which state that they passed away due to drowning. However, the reports also mention wounds on their head, face, and ribs that are indicative of physical impact, according to one of the medical examiners who suggested this may have played a role in their drowning.
The individuals were Bernard Mutua, Francis Muimi, Mbae Murumbi, and a fourth individual referred to as Mkisii. The identity and autopsy results of Mkisii have not been determined.
In December, Del Monte Kenya, the main supplier for British supermarkets, stated that the men voluntarily entered the river and there was no evidence of wrongdoing. The company also mentioned that CCTV footage showed the guards had ceased pursuit, but the video has not been made public.
The company stated that it possessed evidence that opposed the testimonies given by the witnesses. In an official statement, Del Monte declared, “We have presented our evidence to the relevant legal authorities, which contradicts the information you have provided.”
Since disclosing accusations of violence and killings in June of last year, The Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism have delved into nine deaths connected to Del Monte security personnel. The farm is currently under investigation by Kenya’s National Commission on Human Rights.
Recently, there were additional fatalities following the discovery of Peter Mutuku Mutisya’s body in a dam located on the farm. Evidence of injuries was found. In a confidential report on human rights violations at the farm, which was obtained by the Guardian last month, there were severe criticisms. The report also included allegations that employees of the company were collaborating with a group of thieves by providing them with information.
Participants in the December 21 operation allege that Del Monte representatives made multiple efforts to solicit their support in the weeks following the discovery of their comrades’ bodies. They assert that the company’s representatives offered bribes to individuals in order to convince them to give statements that aligned with the farm’s narrative: that the men had perished while attempting to flee by crossing the river.
Michael, whose identity has been kept confidential, stated that he was in Gachagi, a slum near the farm, with some friends when a Del Monte representative and a village leader approached them. He mentioned that they arrived in a Del Monte Land Cruiser with two guards and made an offer of money and employment to anyone who would join them.
“Michael stated that 11 of us were enticed with the offer of money to board. Once inside, a village leader instructed us to speak in unison, denying any reports of people being murdered. The agreed upon narrative was that the four individuals willingly jumped into the river. This sentiment was also expressed by the Del Monte representative.”
According to Michael, when they came to a chief’s camp nearby, they were taken aback to see three police officers and Del Monte’s head of security joining them. Michael mentioned that they were then obligated to provide written statements, which was met with resistance from many individuals, as they had only anticipated receiving monetary compensation and employment opportunities. He stated that four people eventually complied with this requirement.
According to official statements, two additional individuals, referred to as James and Peter, recount comparable incidents involving agents of Del Monte. They have also submitted signed statements stating that they observed Del Monte security personnel using metal rods to assault men, throwing two individuals into a river and pelting them with rocks as they attempted to swim.
James and Peter claimed to have been part of a group in Gachagi when they were approached by employees of Del Monte in a company car. They stated that the officials were offering employment opportunities, but requested to hear their account of the events that occurred on December 21st.
The men assert that one of their companions, who was not present during the incident, falsely claimed that the four had drowned while attempting to swim. According to their sworn statements, this individual sought attention and possibly employment opportunities by spreading this misinformation.
Del Monte hired their own pathologist to be present during the investigation of the deaths in December. This pathologist was the same one who was present during the postmortem of Peter Mutuku Mutisya and determined that there were no injuries. During a press conference following the autopsies, Dr. Mutuma seemed to minimize the seriousness of the injuries, stating that the three men died from drowning and the injuries could not have been the cause of death.
Dr. Bernard Midia, a pathologist appointed by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights to conduct the autopsy, reported that along with other injuries, one of the victims also had wounds on their chest and left side that appeared to be caused by blunt force.
He stated that the injuries may have been a result of physical assault and could have potentially played a role in the victim’s drowning. This could have hindered their ability to swim. He also mentioned that post-mortem marks can occur if the body comes into contact with objects in the water.