By Andrew Cawthorne, Reuters
Kenya's usually mild-mannered President Mwai Kibaki has furiously denied family links with two flamboyant Armenian brothers deported last week for roughing up customs officers at Nairobi airport.
The president also promised in a statement on Sunday night an investigation into the activities in Kenya of brothers Artur Margarian and Arthur Sargsian, who have been accused of receiving official protection for shady dealings in the east Africa nation. The saga of the Armenians has gripped Kenya for months.
Terming claims of family links "blatant lies", Kibaki demanded an apology and threatened to sue the Sunday Nation for a report linking the Armenian pair to a woman said by some local media to be the president's second wife. But Kibaki's statement – a rare flash of anger for the mild-mannered 74-year-old president -- did little to quell growing demands from Kenyans for a proper probe into allegations of links between the Armenians and powerful politicians.
The two burst into the national limelight in March after an opposition politician accused them of being "mercenaries" used by the government to provide muscle for a raid on Kenya's second biggest media house, an act widely condemned around the world.
The brothers denied that, saying they were respectable businessmen wanting to invest in Kenya. But they have become virtual celebrities in recent months, seldom out of cartoons and gossip columns, and leading a swaggering lifestyle that included parties, luxury cars, flashy jewellery and trademark sunglasses.
The saga took a fresh twist with their deportation on Friday after a scuffle at the airport. But a broad spectrum of Kenyan politicians, civil activists and media complained they should have been kept here, and interrogated over their alleged high-level connections and mysterious business dealings.
The Nation reported on Sunday they had attended church with Winnie Wangui, daughter of a woman whom local media identify as an activist with the ruling party and consort of Kibaki. Kibaki denied that in the statement, describing himself as "personally distressed" by the report.
"I have only one family which consists of the First Lady Mrs. Lucy Kibaki, Daughter Judy Kibaki, Sons Jimmy, David, Tony and their wives and children," he said. "No member of my family has had any dealings with the said foreigners...I am, therefore, demanding that the newspaper should apologize to me and my family for the blatant lies."
Two lesser-known brothers were also deported.
"The matter of their stay and transactions in Kenya is the subject of investigations," Kibaki added.
Fuelling concern at what they were doing, police said guns, machetes and bulletproof vests were recovered at the Armenians' luxury home in Nairobi when they were deported. The Nation was unrepentant on Monday, saying in its latest edition the government's handling of the saga was "shameful." "Besides seeking explanations as to why the two brothers were quickly spirited out of the country, the public demands to be told how government vehicles got their way into the Runda residence of the Artur brothers," it said in an editorial.
"They also want to know why these people had access to privileges like security passes to all airports; police titles and gears, Kenyan passports and IDs...Nothing will deter Kenyans from demanding explanations about the apparent Armenians' shadowy dealings."
(AP-Photolur photo: Artur Margarian talks during an interview with AP at his home in Kenyan capital Nairobi on March 16, 2006.)