In 2010, Judy Jepchirchir, director of a controversial recruitment agency linking youth to overseas jobs in Qatar, was dealer in imported clothes in Eldoret town.
Before 2010, she left Chepnoet village in Nandi and got married in Uasin Gishu County. On Wednesday, a mitumba trader in Eldoret recalled how Jepchirchir, the director of First Choice Recruitment and Consultancy, has been on the spot for raking in Sh400 million from 10,000 youth in a botched Qatar job programme.
She has appeared before Uasin Gishu County Assembly and the Senate after hundreds of youth complained they were duped by the firm into paying between Sh40,000 to Sh200,000 to secure jobs in Qatar during the 2022 World Cup but did not travel to the Gulf country despite completing payments.
After failing to secure jobs, several parents, who claimed to have sold land and livestock, demanded refunds.
Those who know Jepchirchir, 37, describe her as a crafty businesswoman who rose from poverty before briefly moving to Australia and Canada.
A trader says Jepchirchir sold clothes in 2010 before enrolling as an undergraduate student at Moi University’s West Campus. She pursued a degree in business management.
The trader says Jepchirchir would juggle between her studies and supplying imported clothes to local traders and to South Sudan.
“After completing her studies at Moi University, she enrolled for a master’s degree at the same university, but before graduating, she left for Australia. We received information that she had left with her husband for Australia.”
“Later, she said she had migrated to Canada after a fallout with her husband in Australia. In Canada, she got married, but the marriage did not last long and in 2018 she returned home,” the mitumba trader revealed.
Upon return, the source recalled, Jepchirchir established an overseas job agency. “She was struggling when she started the clothes business. But after some time, she started making good money. She was also a good broker,” she recalled.
She said she gave birth to her youngest child soon after returning from Canada. “She would say she had a child, who could be in high school by now.”
But her botched overseas job deals and dalliance with top government officials have shocked the country. Her First Choice Recruitment and Consultancy launched in a colourful ceremony in Eldoret three years ago.
Then Labour Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui (now Cooperatives and Micro and Small Enterprise CS) and then Governor Jackson Mandago (now senator) were among guests during the grand launch in Eldoret. Last year, Mandago said he did not take part in asking the youth to pay to be assisted in getting jobs in Qatar.
“I was asked to grace the launch of a company that would assist our jobless youth in securing jobs abroad. I am not a party to their deals,” the former governor said.
But Jepchirchir, according to youth who fell victim to the suspected scam, popularised the botched overseas job deals in Uasin Gishu and Nandi counties, attracting thousands of jobless individuals eager to secure work in Qatar, the United Kingdom, Poland among other countries.
A Uasin Gishu Assembly ad hoc committee that summoned her after the overseas programme ran into headwinds, described her as a hostile witness.
According to the committee, 300 reports against Jepchirchir were made at police stations in Uasin Gishu, but there was no arrest or prosecution.
Yesterday, police in Eldoret said the DCI recorded statements from more than 300 individuals, who claimed to have paid money to First Choice Recruitment and Consultancy to secure jobs abroad. Early this month, Ms Jepchirchir appeared before DCI detectives to record statements. The detectives are said to have invited her on several occasions but failed to honour the summons.
Today, IG Koome is expected back in the Senate to give a status report on the investigations ongoing for the last five months.
Jobless youth and parents who fell victim describe Jepchirchir as a witty woman who appears sincere but harsh when deals turn sour.
Eliud Kipsang, who resigned from Kenya Ports Authority after he was promised a lucrative job as a cashier in Qatar, recently broke down as he narrated his experience.
“When I went to her office to pay for the agency fees, a group of pastors were at hand to pray for me. I did not doubt anything. I knew I was going to Qatar and earn more money to improve the situation in my family,” said Kipsang.
Kipsang said he was puzzled by demands by the recruitment agency that payments were strictly in cash and not through mobile money transfers and banks.
Another victim, Silas Rotich told the Senate team that the agency was still recruiting the jobless and charging money in Eldoret after shutting down an office in town following an uproar by youth.
When he appeared before the Senate Labour and Social Welfare Committee in June, IG Koome said officers from the Investigations Bureau and Financial Investigations Unit at DCI headquarters commenced the investigations on March 14.
“The team specifically investigated the allegation of financial fraud recording statements from 290 victims from Uasin Gishu, Nandi, Elgeyo Marakwet, Bomet, Kericho and Trans-Nzoia counties who visited the office of the County Criminal Investigations Officer in Eldoret,” said Koome.
They also obtained cash receipts from the victims to support their allegations and the dates of payment to the agency with preliminary findings suggesting that in early April 2022, there were several road shows and advertisements by local media within Uasin Gishu.
A report of an Uasin Gishu assembly ad hoc committee chaired by Gilbert Chepkong’a found that 10,000 youth from the county and the neighbouring Nandi paid money to the agency, but less than 100 secured jobs. The senate committee received the assembly report.
Chair of Senate Committee West Pokot Senator Julius Murgor said they will retreat to write a report.
“As a committee, we feel your pain. You have our support. We had not listened to parents and students. Whatever happened was unacceptable,” he said.
Three months ago, the First Choice Recruitment and Consultancy Agency CEO told the Senate team that it did not defraud more than 8,000 youth.
Jepchirchir said the firm had connected more than 7,000 Kenyans to various jobs abroad in four years of operation. On July 1 this year, Jepchirchir was spotted dining with top government officials during the launch of ‘Gava Mkononi’, an initiative aimed at digitising 5,000 government services.
During the launch, Foreign Affairs CS Alfred Mutua revealed his ministry’s initiative dubbed ‘Kazi Majuu’, where he explained that Kenyans looking for opportunities abroad would log in to the e-Citizen portal and find available opportunities.