Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Kenya minister suspended over fraud case

Suspended Higher Education Minister and ODM Deputy Leader William Ruto. Photo/STEPHEN MUDIARI

Suspended Higher Education Minister and ODM Deputy Leader William Ruto. Photo/STEPHEN MUDIARI  

By ANTHONY KARIUKI

Higher Education minister William Ruto has been suspended from Cabinet, just days after a constitutional court ruled he will face fraud charges.

"Following consultations with the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister, His Excellency the President has stood aside Hon. William S. Ruto, EGH, MP from Office of Minister with immediate effect pending conclusion of the Nairobi Chief Magistrates Case No. 973 of 2004 as allowed by the Nairobi High Court Suit No. 1192/2005 (0S)," said a statement from Kibaki's office.

The President appointed the minister for East African Community Hellen Sambili to Mr Ruto's docket in an acting capacity.

On Friday, a three judge bench ruled that Mr Ruto will face criminal prosecution over a Sh272 million fraud case.

Judges Jeanne Gacheche, Leonard Njagi and Roseline Wendoh said that they were not convinced that any of Mr Ruto’s rights had been infringed because he was still innocent until the trial court proved otherwise.

Mr Ruto and four other persons face fraud charges over the alleged sale of a piece of land in Ngong forest to Kenya Pipeline Company Ltd for a total of Sh272 million.

The minister allegedly received Sh96 million at various intervals during the alleged transaction.

In the case, the Eldoret North MP and Berke Commercial Agencies, a company associated with him, Mr Joshua Kulei, a former aide of retired president Daniel Moi, Mr Sammy Mwaita (Baringo Central MP) and two other firms were sued for allegedly obtaining money from KPC between August 6 and September 6, 2001.

Section 62 of the Anti-corruption and Economic Crimes Act stipulates that “a public officer who is charged with corruption or economic crime shall be suspended at half pay, with effect from the date of the charge.”

Such a suspended public officer continues to receive the full amount of any allowances, according the law. The law now requires that President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga move to suspend Mr Ruto until the case against him is determined.

The move to have Mr Ruto step aside comes after Attorney General Amos Wako said that he would advise President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga on the next course of action following the court's ruling.

“As you know, I cannot make comments like other ministers and politicians. I have my clients, the two principals, and will advice them as required,” Mr Wako said.

Justice minister Mutula Kilonzo and Gichugu MP Martha Karua had led calls for Mr Ruto to leave office saying that was what the law provided.

On Saturday, Mr Ruto dismissed calls for his resignation saying there was "nothing new" to warrant his stepping aside.

Addressing a news conference at his Jogoo House office on his return from Japan, he said the suit was politically-motivated and questioned why it has been dragging in court for close to seven years.

“It has taken this long so that every year, Kenyans would be reminded that there is a certain case Mr Ruto is facing. But there is nothing new in it,” he said.

“There is a propensity to get me out… I don’t know why.”

In April, Mr Ruto was transferred to the Higher Education Ministry from his Agriculture docket. At the time, he was leading campaigns against the new Constitution.

It will be the second time that Mr Ruto, who belongs to the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) wing of the coalition government, stands suspended.

In February, PM Odinga suspended Mr Ruto, then Agriculture minister, and Basic Education minister Sam Ongeri to pave way for investigations in their respective ministries for a period of three months.

Mr Odinga had cited the National Accord, which gives him the mandate of supervising ministers.

However, President Kibaki overturned the suspensions saying Mr Odinga had no powers to remove ministers and the suspension was done in violation of the Constitution.

In other appointments, Bishop Margaret Wanjiru Kariuki was taken back to the Housing Ministry as assistant minister. She successfully defended her Starehe seat in a by election last month.

Embakasi MP Ferdinard Waititu was appointed assistant minister, Water and Irrigation replacing Laikipia East MP Mwangi Kiunjuri, who was moved to the Ministry of Public Works in a similar capacity.

Kilome MP Haron Mwau becomes Trade assistant minister while his Bomachoge counterpart Simon Ogari moves to Transport as assistant minister.

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