They called themselves Artur Margaryan and Artur Sargasyan, boasted that they were descended from Armenia’s former royal family and related to the Armenian Prime Minister. It later emerged that their passports were stolen, their real names a mystery, the Armenian premier had never heard of them, and their nationality was just as likely to be Russian or Czech. With their black shirts, heavy gold chains and close-cropped heads which only served to accentuate the contrast between their pallid East European skins and dark hair- they certainly looked what opposition leader Raila Odinga claimed them to be:the least discreet of international mercenaries.
Raila claimed government operatives had hired the two not only to lead the raid on the Standard, but to assasinate opposition politcians. Not true, replied the two Arturs, they were harmless international investors who would bring prosperity to Kenya via- now, where had Kenyans heard this before?- their role in Africa’s gold and diamond trade. But everything about two Arturs was off-kilter. Strangely talkative, they staged the first of their press conferences in Jomo Kenyatta airport’s VIP lounge, an area usually inaccessible to ordinary mortals. Reports circulated that they were part of a Russian mafia network and had been sent to Kenya to ‘liberate’ a massive cocaine shipment seized at the coast in 2004, the biggest haul in African history. When they were at last deported in June 2006, having finally crossed the line by waving a gun at customs officials who tried to open their luggage at the airport, their villa was found to contain a collection of assault rifles, bulletproof jackets, a small fleet of cars, and official documents assigning them the rank of deputy police commissioners and giving them unrestricted access to all Kenya’s airports. Decidedly, these were unusually well-connected soldiers of fortune.
Through his various security contacts, John heard that the Artur brothers had been spotted in Britain. The freelance security experts’ assignment, he was told, was twofold. Their first task was to install listening devices at the Kenyan High Commission in London in order to record his closed-door testimony before the PAC. The second was to rid the Kibaki presidency, in the style of Henry II, of this turbulent whistleblower. The Thames Valley Police had heard similar reports, for after a six-month silence they suddenly got in touch. ‘It was very discreet, very gentle. They just said: ”We’ve heard about the Russians. You might want to move.” John swapped his exposed lodgings on the Woodstock Road for a room in the womb of the college campus, and was issued with a set of alarms.
The devices were never put to test. Did John’s enemies lose their nerve at the prospect of carrying out an assassination on British diplomatic and political hot water as the Soviet Union in the wake of Alexander Litvinenko’s fatal poisoning later that year? Did the Artur brothers, so clod-hoppingly indiscreet in all their operations, simply fail to deliver? John could only guess. The brothers were tracked as far as Oxford. ‘It was incredibly incompetent. These guys were spotted drinking downtown within days.’ And then they disappeared from the radar, returning to Kenya mission unaccomplished.