Mr Henry Kosgey faces 10 years in jail if he is convicted on 12 charges of abuse of office filed in a Nairobi court on Tuesday.
Each of the 12 charges carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment, but if convicted he would most likely be ordered to serve them concurrently.
The veteran politician was arraigned in court just hours after announcing that he was stepping aside as minister for Industrialisation following Attorney-General Amos Wako’s authorisation that the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission could arrest and charge him for illegally allowing the importation of an over-age vehicle.
Mr Kosgey, the MP for Tinderet and chairman of Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s ODM party, announced on Tuesday morning that he was quitting office, and immediately drove to the KACC offices where he spent nearly six hours and had his fingerprints taken. He was then taken to the anti-corruption court in a KACC vehicle.
He is a key ally of the Prime Minister in Rift Valley politics and is also one of the six suspects under investigation by the International Criminal Court as key plotters of the post-election violence.
Mr Odinga announced that he accepted Mr Kosgey’s move in consultation with President Kibaki.
Before principal magistrate Elijah Obaga, Mr Kosgey denied 12 counts of abuse of office contrary to section 46 of the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act.
He was supported by a contingent of ODM ministers and MPs who thronged the KACC Integrity Centre offices and the courtroom in a show of solidarity.
Those present included Agriculture minister Sally Kosgei and her Roads counterpart Franklin Bett. East African Affairs minister Helen Sambili was also there, so were MPs Magerer Langat (Kipkelion), Rachel Shebesh (nominated), Fred Kapondi (Mt Elgon), Beatrice Kones (Bomet), Joyce Laboso (Sotik), Julius Murgor (Kapenguria), Jakoyo Midiwo (Gem) and Wilson Litole (Sigor).
His arrival in court was the culmination of a dramatic day which started with an emotional morning press conference in the office to announce that he was quitting and proclaiming his innocence followed by hours of interrogation at the KACC headquarters.
Mr Kosgey was accused of using his office to exempt 123 motor vehicles imported by individuals and car dealers from the Kenya Standards code of practice for road vehicles without the advice of the National Standards Council.
The prosecution lined up as witnesses two permanent secretaries - the present Industrialisation PS, Dr Karanja Kibicho and his predecessor Prof John Lonyangapuo, who was moved to the Public Works ministry last June.
Mr Kosgey was represented by lawyers Julius Kemboi, Paul Ilan, Allan Kosgey, Kiptanui Kimaiyu, Philemon Koech and nominated MP Millie Odhiambo.
The prosecution was led by Mr Patrick Kiage.
Mr Kemboi asked the court to release his client on a free bond, citing the fact that he has served the country for over 30 years.
“He has no intention of running away from the process. He presented himself to the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission this morning; that is evidence of a person who is willing to comply with the judicial process,” the lawyer said.
The offence he is charged with, he further stated, attracts a fine of Sh1 million, which the court should use as a deciding factor while setting bail terms.
Mr Kiage conceded that the former minister was entitled to bail but opposed his being released on a free bond.
“The maximum penalty for the offence is a term of imprisonment not exceeding 10 years. The court should give appropriate bail terms that will give an assurance of going forward with the process,” he said.
He was released on a cash bail of Sh2 million. The case will be heard between March 2 to 4.
At Integrity House on Tuesday morning, there was anxiety as his ODM Cabinet colleagues waited outside, consulting in low tones. They were barred from entering the offices and remained at the reception until Ms Odhiambo - a lawyer - came in at midday and insisted on seeing Mr Kosgey. Other MPs followed upstairs.
At exactly 2.48pm, Mr Kosgey emerged appearing tense and did not answer questions from journalists. Some of his supporters who had camped at the Integrity Centre wept as he was driven to court.
The charges are that he exempted four vehicles imported by Hussein H. Mohamed t/a Lagdera Technologies on November 19, 2009. He also did the same on February 9, 2010, for Mr Simon Maina Kamau and one vehicle imported by Mr Lawrence Karanja Waweru.
On March 3, the same year, he allegedly exempted 20 motor vehicles for Yuasa International Limited, a motor vehicle importer; and another 22 units on June 3.
He did the same on May 10 by exempting 12 vehicles; 3 vehicles on May 19, a further 24 vehicles on May 26 and 12 vehicles on June 8 for Pakens International Limited.
On May 19 and 26, the minister is accused of doing the same for Al Pacific Limited, eight motor vehicles on each date. The final count stated that on May 13, he exempted seven units for Bangal Cars.
The hearing was set for March 2, 2011.
Reports about the cars that did not meet Kenyan Bureau of Standards specifications emerged last October, with the Kenya Revenue Authority said to have refused to release them into the country.
In his office on Tuesday, Mr Kosgey insisted the exemptions did not begin with him. He also denied that any money was lost.
The emotional Kosgey said that he was confident he would be vindicated and thanked his family, and friends for their support.