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From lofty jobs to court corridors, ex-governors fight off graft claims

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Governors graft case.

Photo credit: Pool

The governorship position ranks as the most coveted position, outside the presidency, with the title of excellency to boot.

The position, however, is turning out to be a poisoned chalice for some former governors who have found themselves in trouble over controversy surrounding their tenure.

They have found themselves grappling with court cases, some of which started while in office and others after, mostly linked to graft.

Billions of shillings are at the heart of the troubles facing mostly former governors with some of them roping in even close family relations.

Former governors Ukur Yatani (Marsabit), Mwangi wa Iria (Murang’a), Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega), Mike Sonko (Nairobi), Ferdinand Waititu (Kiambu), Dr Evans Kidero (Nairobi), Moses Lenolkulal (Samburu), Sospeter Ojaamong (Busia) and Okoth Obado (Migori) have found themselves in hot soup with investigative agencies.

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) is in hot pursuit of Mr Yatani and Mr Wa Iria in the latest cases.

Former Treasury Cabinet Secretary, Mr Yatani, early this month failed to stop proceedings against him by the anti-graft agency over claims of embezzlement of public funds amounting to Sh1.2 billion during his tenure as Marsabit governor.

The latest swoop by the EACC, which also roped in his spouse, Dr Gumato Yatani, saw the ex-county chief questioned at the Integrity Centre on May 2.

The commission had obtained search warrants from a Milimani court on April 22 and later raided Mr Yatani’s homes in Marsabit and Karen, as well as his offices.

The EACC is investigating allegations of embezzlement of public funds, procurement irregularities and irregular award of tenders by the County Government of Marsabit leading to the loss of public funds amounting to Sh1.2 billion for the financial years between 2013 and 2024.

Mr Yatani’s successor, Governor Mohamud Ali, was also taken to the Integrity Centre by the EACC officers for questioning.

The anti-graft agency also seized more than Sh62 million from a businessman said to be a relative of Mr Yatani last month.

The EACC, which raided Mr Ibrae Doko Yatani’s residence, said it suspects the money could have been irregularly paid to the businessman’s company, Al Habib Enterprises, by Marsabit County. The commission wants to investigate the source of the money.

Mr Wa Iria is also in the eye of a graft storm over alleged procurement fraud amounting to Sh140 million between financial years ending June 2015 and 2016.

The ex-governor and seven others, including his wife, are wanted by the EACC in connection with alleged fraudulent award of tenders to two companies.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) wants them to be charged with conspiracy to commit an offence of corruption, abuse of office and unlawful acquisition of public property.

On Thursday, Mr Wa Iria and his co-accused suffered a blow after Justice Nixon Sifuna rejected an application he had made asking the High Court to suspend the corruption case facing him pending the hearing of their petition challenging their prosecution.

Oparanya's Sh1.3 billion scandal

The troubles facing Wa Iria come hot on the heels of the arrest of ex-Kakamega Governor Oparanya and his three wives in August last year, before subsequently being interrogated at the EACC offices following a search in their homes.

According to the commission, Mr Oparanya is being investigated for allegedly embezzling public funds exceeding Sh1.3 billion from Kakamega County during his tenure.

In November last year, the agency obtained orders to freeze assets worth Sh28.9 million belonging to Mr Oparanya. He faces accusations of misappropriation of public funds through proxies and associates.

In February, the DPP gave a go-ahead for the prosecution of Mr Oparanya over allegations of conflict of interest and receiving a benefit used to purchase property which the EACC claims was brought through corrupt means.

The anti-graft agency wanted Mr Oparanya charged with abuse of office and 11 counts of conflict of interest contrary to section 42(3) read with section 48 of the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act.

But just like Wa Iria, Mr Oparanya obtained an injunction against the anti-graft agency preventing his arrest and prosecution. In court papers, the EACC suspects that a prime property, Olorua Ridge Development in Karen, was acquired corruptly and is seeking to attach it.

According to an affidavit sworn by lawyer Joram Wambugu for the commission, the EACC claimed Mr Oparanya used a company, Tricomp Energy Limited, to purchase the house.

“Preliminary investigations have revealed that there were procurement irregularities and conflict of interest in the award of tenders by the County Government of Kakamega, valued at approximately Sh1.38 billion,” read the papers in part.

The commission said it initiated investigations based on complaints that contracts were awarded to companies linked to Mr Oparanya, who then allegedly received kickbacks through proxies amounting to Sh56 million.

Investigations revealed that six companies were awarded a total of 60 contracts, and received Sh2.2 billion.

The commission claimed that the funds were used to purchase a property which the former governor leased back to the county government for Sh9.2 million, in a case of conflict of interest.

“It was also established that the former governor entered into a tenancy agreement with the Kakamega County Government for the lease of land reference number Marama/Shianda/442 and the buildings erected thereon for Sh9,200,000,” the report reads in part. “Investigations established that the former governor irregularly received a benefit of Sh56.7 million from the County Government of Kakamega.”

The anti-graft agency said it is presently investigating 21 current and former governors for corruption and economic crimes involving substantial amounts of public funds.

The investigations encompass a range of offences, including embezzlement of public funds, conflict of interest, procurement fraud, payroll fraud involving ghost workers, fraudulent pending bills, and violations of financial management laws.

The commission declared that it is committed to holding all individuals accountable for misappropriation of public funds, regardless of their status or political affiliations.

The commission’s spokesperson Eric Ngumbi said the cases are at various stages of investigation.

The EACC’s quarterly report of August 11, 2023, states that it had submitted files to the DPP recommending the prosecution of Kakamega Governor Fernandes Barasa and former Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu on corruption.

In Mr Waititu’s case, the commission is seeking to recover almost Sh1.9 billion and alleged unexplained assets he acquired between 2017 and 2020 while he was the governor of Kiambu. He is accused of using his kin and companies associated with them to accumulate the assets.

Mr Sonko has been in and out of court since 2019 after being charged with allegedly embezzling Sh357 million from Nairobi County.

However, in February this year, Milimani Magistrate Eunice Nyutu acquitted him, saying no evidence has been adduced by the prosecution to show he conspired to embezzle funds.

In Ms Ngilu’s case, the EACC submitted her file to the DPP for prosecution over alleged misappropriation of funds at Kitui County Government during her tenure. Last year, a Senate watchdog committee called for her probe over a mysterious fire that burnt financial records involving Sh10 billion back in 2019.

Mr Lenolkulal is facing abuse of office and graft-related charges after being charged in 2019 with four counts of abuse of office and conflict of interest leading to the loss of Sh84 million public funds. Last month, he lost four prime properties in Karen, Nairobi after the court ruled that they were proceeds of crime.

Mr Ojaamong has been battling a Sh8 million graft case since 2018 while Dr Kidero is facing trial over claims he fraudulently got Sh14 million in 2014 as part of Sh213 million graft case and another involving Sh68 million during his tenure as governor.

Mr Obado has been battling a Sh505.6 million corruption case with his children and proxies for allegedly defrauding Migori County government.  

This is after the Senate County Public Accounts Committee alleged collusion and foul play in the fire incident, calling on the EACC and DCI to swing into action.

“There is no way an entire allocation for a financial year worth Sh10 billion just went up in smoke. Someone should be in jail,” said the committee chairperson Homa Bay Senator Moses Kajwang’.

For his part, Mr Lenolkulal is facing abuse of office and graft-related charges after being charged in 2019 with four counts of abuse of office and conflict of interest leading to the loss of 84 million public funds.

He is accused of influencing tenders in Samburu County in favour of Oryx service station, a company linked to him, to supply petrol and diesel to the county; an accusation he has denied.

The EACC alleged that the ex-governor traded with the county government through the company between 2014 and 2019, and was paid from public funds.

Last month, he lost four prime properties in Nairobi’s Karen area worth millions of shillings after the High Court ruled that the assets were proceeds of crime.

High Court judge Esther Maina ruled that the assets should be forfeited to the government because they were linked to corruption, saying contracts based on illegality amount to proceeds of corruption.

In the ongoing graft case, the anti-graft agency seeks to recover Sh84 million from Mr Lenolkulal, which he has been accused of corruptly receiving.

Mr Ojaamong has been battling a Sh8 million graft case since 2018 where he, together with his co-accused, have been charged with conspiracy to commit an economic crime.

The former Busia governor has also separately been charged with engaging in a project without prior planning and abuse of office.

He was charged with abuse of office and economic crimes with allegations of irregular procurement of a waste management feasibility project in Busia during the financial year ending June 2014.

Dr Kidero has been fighting to stop concurrent criminal and civil cases against him arising from alleged fraudulent transactions during his tenure at City Hall.

Former Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero

Former Nairobi City County Governor Evans Kidero. Dr Kidero and his 12 co-accused have been charged afresh in a Sh58 City Hall fraud.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

He is facing trial over claims that he fraudulently received Sh14 million in 2014 as part of Sh213 million graft case and another involving Sh68 million.

In the Sh213 million, the ex-governor has been charged over conspiracy to commit fraud which led to the loss of the amount at City Hall between January 16, 2014 and January 25, 2016.

With the co-accused, they are accused of allegedly conspiring to commit corruption by authorising payment to various companies, for services not rendered.

Other charges include conspiracy to commit an offence of corruption, abuse of office, fraudulent acquisition of public property, dealing with suspect property and unlawful failure to pay tax to a public body.

EACC is also seeking to recover Sh68 million allegedly stolen through a scheme orchestrated to defraud the county government for payment of fees in a case filed by a ghost company against City Hall.

However, Dr Kidero has argued that there was nothing linking him to the money allegedly paid to a law firm before it was shared among former senior officials at City Hall.

Mr Obado has also been battling a Sh505.6 million corruption case where he is charged alongside his children and proxies for allegedly defrauding Migori County government.

The EACC said it investigated tenders awarded to several companies linked to his associates by the county government between 2013 and 2017 as he faces 22 counts.

In 2022, EACC boss Twalib Mbarak said they are alarmed by the gross magnitude of looting of public resources in counties.

He said the Commission has profiled most of the county governors with a majority treating their tenure in office as an opportunity for self-enrichment.

“We are preparing to file more suits seeking forfeiture of the corruptly acquired wealth to the state,” said Mr Mbarak.