Kenya’s finance minister was arrested on Monday on corruption charges in what could become one of the highest profile graft prosecutions in the country’s history. The allegations against Henry Rotich relate to the procurement and payment process for the Arror and Kimwarer hydroelectric dam projects, which have been under investigation by authorities since September.
The two dams were budgeted to cost $455m by the Italian construction company CMC Di Ravenna, but the Kenyan treasury negotiated a commercial facility to fund the project that increased the amount to about $610m — $155m more than was required, Noordin Haji, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said on Monday.
“Under the guise of carrying out legitimate commercial transactions, colossal amounts were unjustifiably and illegally paid out through a well-choreographed scheme by government officers in collusion with private individuals and institutions,” Mr Haji said. Allegations of impropriety against senior government officials in Kenya are common but, despite public commitments from President Uhuru Kenyatta to fight corruption, prosecutions have been rare.
Mr Rotich would be charged alongside 27 other senior officials, Mr Haji said, including Italian Paolo Porcelli, the director of CMC di Ravenna, and Mr Rotich’s number two at the ministry, Kamau Thugge, the principal secretary. Both Mr Rotich and CMC have previously denied any wrongdoing. Mr Rotich turned himself in to authorities on Monday after Mr Haji announced his impending arrest. Mr Rotich’s telephone was switched off and Mr Thugge’s phone number did not connect when the FT sought comment.
No one at CMC’s offices in Nairobi answered the phone when the FT called. Senior Kenyan officials have been arrested on corruption charges before but those cases have often collapsed amid allegations of political dealmaking. Political analyst Alutalala Mukhwana said the indictment was a “landmark case” because of Mr Rotich’s seniority as a sitting finance minister and his reputation as an ally of deputy president William Ruto.
Mr Ruto helped Mr Kenyatta to win election in 2013 but their relationship has since frayed over whether Mr Kenyatta will back Mr Ruto to succeed him in 2022. “For the longest time, the differences have been boiling in private and now that Kenyatta has gone for Henry Rotich this going to be an open warfare between the president and his deputy,” Mr Mukhwana said.
Other politicians loyal to Mr Ruto, such as Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, have already jumped to Mr Rotich’s defence. “I have looked at the charge sheets and I can tell you the entire thing is a charade,” Mr Murkomen, who said he would be representing some of the accused, told reporters outside of the office of the Director of Criminal Investigations in Nairobi. That certain people had been arrested and certain people had been “left out” proved that the prosecution was a “public relations stunt” intended to give only the appearance that the government was fighting corruption, he said. Mr Mukhwana said there was no suggestion that Mr Haji’s investigation of Mr Rotich had been anything other than professional, but added that he expected Mr Ruto’s allies to respond to the indictment with allegations of their own against officials loyal to Mr Kenyatta, some of whom have also been implicated in rumoured corruption scandals. “There will be a serious quorum from William Ruto’s side calling out names of people who are in Kenyatta’s camp and asking Kenyatta that they too must be arrested if he is to be fair on the fight against corruption,” Mr Mukhwana said. “It is going to get very, very messy.”
Source: Financial Times
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