Former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko and his immediate family members have been banned from travelling to the US over corruption allegations related to abuse of office and bribery.
According to the Tuesday announcement by Counselor for Public Affairs Eric Watnik at the US Embassy in Nairobi, Sonko’s ban from the US is based on "involvement in significant corruption” during his short tenure at City Hall.
Watnik said the State Department has declared Sonko, his wife Primrose Mbuvi, his daughters Saumu and Salma and his underage son ineligible for entry into the US. The designation means they have also been banned from doing any business with the US.
“His (Sonko’s) corruption has been widely reported in local and international press. With this designation the department reaffirms the need for accountability, transparency and respect for rule of law in Kenya’s democratic institutions, government processes and the actions of the public officials,” said Watnik.
He continued: “The United States will continue to use all tools available to combat corruption and promote respect for human rights globally.” He issued the communication on behalf of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The Counselor disclosed that the department is in possession of credible information that Sonko received bribes in kickbacks from his associates in exchange for awarding of multi-million shilling tenders.
“The department has credible information that the former governor was involved in significant corruption when serving as governor of Nairobi. We determined that he received bribes in kickbacks in exchange for irregular awarding of contracts to his associates for personal gains,” stated Watnik.
According to the diplomat, Sonko’s corrupt acts undermined the rule of law, Kenyan’s public, government processes and public officials.
However, he neither named the said associates, their nationalities nor disclosed whether they too have been designated as persons ineligible to travel to the US.
Watnik said the ban is based on provisions of Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act 2020.
Asked whether there are other officials of the Kenyan government on the investigation's radar and whether Kenyans should expect a similar announcement soon, Watnik said he cannot disclose or speculate because the department conducts its investigations in private and makes them public after determination.
Since Sonko is facing an active case at the anti-corruption court in Milimani, the diplomat said the outcome of the trial will not impact the decision of the US government to ban him.
“The action today is based on information available to us and we believe that the information is proven and significantly credible. It touches on corruption in terms of kickbacks for illegal awarding of contracts. I cannot get into hypothetical but it may not be affected by the court’s determination,” said Watnik.
Although he said the US government does not have the financial value of the bribes and kickbacks, in one of the cases facing Sonko he is alleged to have received a kickback of Sh8.4 million from ROG Security Ltd through Anthony Otieno between December 27 and 28, 2018. The money was a benefit in respect to a contract by the city county government for the hiring of heavy equipment.
Sonko becomes the second Kenyan to be publicly banned from travelling to the US during President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government over corruption allegations.
In 2019, Busia Senator Amos Wako (former Attorney General), his wife and son were banned from travelling to the United States over similar allegations.
“Economic prosperity for all Kenyans is only possible by defeating the scourge of corruption, which also requires a functional, fair, and transparent criminal justice system. The United States will continue to stand with all Kenyans as they strive to curb and punish corruption in Kenya,” the 2019 statement on Mr Wako indicated.
Sonko is currently facing three different cases at the anti-corruption magistrate court in Milimani. They involve Sh381 million lost from the county government’s account through money laundering, bribes, conflict of interest and acquisition of proceeds of crime. He is also fighting accusations of abuse of office, making irregular payments, improperly conferring a benefit to himself and conspiring to commit an offence of corruption.
In the first file, he is charged alongside Fredrick Odhiambo alias Fred Oyugi trading as Yiro Enterprises Limited, Antony Otieno Ombok and ROG Securities Ltd for embezzling county government funds to the tune of Sh14 million.
The former governor is accused of having conflict of interest in awarding of tenders by the county government and acquisition of proceeds of crime.
The court heard that the governor received Sh8.4 million from ROG Security Ltd through Anthony Otieno between December 27 and 28, 2018.
The money was a benefit in respect to a contract by the City county government for hiring of heavy equipment. He is also accused of having an indirect private interest in the awarding of a tender to Yiro Enterprises Ltd by receiving Sh8.4 million from Fredrick Odhiambo.
Other counts he is charged jointly with Odhiambo, Otieno and ROG Security Ltd. The three are accused of money laundering and conspiring to commit an offence of corruption through the hiring of heavy machinery which led to loss of Sh14million from the Nairobi County Government.
In the second file, he is charged with demanding a bribe of Sh10 million from a company that City Hall had contracted to collect revenues.
Prosecutors said that he demanded the bribe from Web Tribe Limited through ROG Security Ltd as an inducement to facilitate payments and its contract with Nairobi County.
He is said to have committed the offence between January 10 and 19, 2019 within Nairobi when WebTribe’s e-revenue collection contract with City Hall through JamboPay was due to expire.
The electronic payment firm was contracted in 2014 by the administration of Governor Evans Kidero to supply, implement and maintain an automated revenue collection and payments solution for five years. The contract ended in April last year.
In the third file, Sonko is charged alongside 16 others over loss of public funds amounting to Sh357 million from Nairobi County Government.
Prosecutors said stated that between May 24, 2018, and March 28, 2019, Sonko jointly with others conspired to commit an offence of corruption namely embezzlement of public funds in the sum of Sh357,390,229 from the County Government.
He is out on a cash bail of Sh15 million.