Nkululeko Ncana, City Press
How crazy does it get? A Russian private investigator trying to track down Juicyfields missing millions got kidnapped in Namibia by rogue police and had to be rescued by former military intelligence officials in a sting operation.
This report was first published in City Press on 6 February 2024.
A Russian private investigator based in Germany has been rescued from a harrowing ordeal after he found himself embroiled in a complex web of fraud and extortion spanning South Africa and Namibia.
Igor Kekshin landed in Cape Town in November last year to probe the disappearance of substantial sums of money in a fraud case linked to JuicyFields, an international cannabis crowdfunding programme.
Kekshin's mission to track down embezzled investor funds in South Africa took a dangerous turn when he was allegedly abducted by rogue police officers in Namibia, falsely incarcerated and subjected to extortion by high-ranking officials.
The intricate operation to secure the private investigator's freedom involved a sting operation with a specialised private security company, former military intelligence operatives and Namibia's specialised police.
They not only rescued Kekshin, but also exposed the extensive rot inside Namibia's law enforcement system, leading to the arrest of several of its members.
Dubious arrest in Namibia
In an affidavit filed with Namibian police, Kekshin says his investigation took a sinister turn on his arrival in Namibia. He writes that he was lured by a syndicate, which allegedly produces fake identity documents (IDs) and extorts its victims of money after having them arrested, found himself entrapped in a scheme orchestrated by a husband and wife living in Windhoek and Cape Town.
Documents seen by City Press show that Kekshin transferred significant sums of Bitcoin to the couple under the guise of currency exchange for his expenses in Namibia during his stay, including translation services.
Information accessed by City Press includes documents and recordings allegedly implicating the couple who had kept Kekshin's Russian passport after informing him that they would secure the relevant private investigator permits – including business permits should he wish – to conduct his work in Namibia.
The private investigator says in his affidavit that, following a meeting at the Avani Hotel in Windhoek, he was later arrested under dubious circumstances, involving a questionable passport – reportedly handed to him by the couple – and police intervention. According to Kekshin and officials involved in the operation, the investigator's arrest was just the beginning of his nightmare.
While in custody, Kekshin discovered the involvement of the allegedly corrupt police officials, including officers with familial ties to the syndicate.
His funds, meticulously documented in the affidavits, were allegedly systematically embezzled, with the complicity of the husband and wife duo and the police.
In his affidavit Kekshin writes:
About five minutes after [the husband's] departure, police officers, accompanied by [the husband] entered my hotel room. Subsequently, I was taken to the police station. Later, [the wife] contacted me, requesting additional funds, without specifying an amount. [The husband] and an officer later retrieved all the money from my backpack at my hotel. At the police station, I observed an officer with a plastic bag from a souvenir shop, containing my money. [The wife] informed me that [her husband] (who was also taken into custody) was released to find me a lawyer and assist in my release from jail.
"My property was not recorded in the prisoner property receipt which only recorded a vape, a brown belt and shoelaces. I was detained for a day and then taken to court on 14 December 2023. I did not comprehend the court proceedings as [the wife] – appointed as the translator – did not explain the charges."
The ordeal escalated until the intervention of former military intelligence operatives from South Africa, who collaborated with Namibian police to entrap the culprits. The arrest included police officials and alleged members of a syndicate known to produce fake identity documents, passports and different kinds of visas, among other documents.
The sting operation in Namibia led to Kekshin's release and the dropping of all charges against him, but he had lost a significant amount of money and was exposed to entrenched corruption in the system.
Kekshin's initial investigation of the embezzlement of funds from the controversial JuicyFields investment scheme also exposed the dark underbelly of international crime.
JuicyFields, once led by a South African, Willem van der Merwe, is an e-growing scheme known for its promises of lucrative returns through cannabis cultivation investments. The scheme and its owners are currently under investigation for financial irregularities by international law enforcement agencies, after the company suddenly shut down in 2022, without any explanation.
This caused an international legal frenzy, with thousands of investors unable to withdraw their investments ranging from €50 (R1 017) and €180 000.The investments being recouped through various legal channels and efforts around the world are believed to be worth more than $1 billion (R19 billion).
An operative at the centre of Kekshin's rescue and the arrests of alleged syndicate members said:
This incident not only highlights the risks faced by private investigators in international operations but also casts a shadow on the functioning of law enforcement agencies in dealing with cross-border financial crimes. The JuicyFields saga, with its blend of investment fraud and corruption, serves as a cautionary tale for those enticed by high-return promises in the burgeoning cannabis industry. Kekshin's ordeal, while personally devastating, sheds light on the intricate and perilous world of financial crimes; the vulnerability of international investigators; and the need for robust, transparent legal systems to combat such malpractices.
With charges against him dropped, Kekshin is now a key state witness and is expected to provide crucial testimony that could shake the Namibian Police Force.
Namibian police spokesperson, Deputy Commissioner Kauna Shikwambi, said she had knowledge of the sting operation and the arrest.
Shikwambi told City Press:
"The case against the Russian man [Kekshin] was withdrawn at court. However, investigations are ongoing against the other accused person in the case. The case was postponed to 15 February, pending further investigation."
She added: "In the meantime, the Russian man is reported to have left Namibia," she said.