Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Mudavadi probed in graves plot scandal

Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi.

Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi.  

By DAVE OPIYO and NJERI RUGENE

Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi is under investigation by the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission over the Sh283 million cemetery land fraud.

KACC on Tuesday said it wants to establish whether the minister was party to the fraud in which the City Council of Nairobi bought land valued at Sh24 million for nearly Sh300 million.

But Mr Mudavadi protested his innocence and said KACC was being unfair by accusing him without giving him a chance to be heard.

Besmirch character

“The only motive behind such conduct must be a political scheme to besmirch my character in the eyes of the public who do not have any real facts regarding the matter. It is no wonder it was ignored that the matter is a subject of Parliamentary debate,” said the minister.

Acting KACC director John Mutonyi said the commission was moving to recover the money from the people implicated in the 120-acre Mavoko Township cemetery land, judged by experts to be unsuitable for graves.

In Parliament, an MP sensationally claimed a lawyer received Sh59 million on behalf of a senior Cabinet Minister in the purchase of the land and asked Justice minister Mutula Kilonzo to confirm to the House the allegations.

Justice Assistant minister William Cheptumo promised a response to the statement on Wednesday.

Mr Nelson Gaichuhie of Subukia demanded a ministerial statement in which he wants the minister to tell the House whether indeed Mr Newton Osiemo, a lawyer, represented the interests of the said minister, “who was awarded” the money in the fraudulent transaction as contained in a report by the KACC.

In a report to Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Head of Public Service Francis Muthaura titled A Report on the Procurement of Cemetery Land by the Nairobi City Council, a copy of which the Nation has seen, KACC records an allegation by the council’s legal affairs director, Ms Mary N. Ngethe, linking Mr Mudavadi to the transaction.

“The Mayor, CCN (City Council of Nairobi), introduced Mr Newton Osiemo to M/s Mary Ng’ethe as a business associate of the Deputy Prime Minister and minister for Local Government, Hon Musalia Mudavadi, and that he will take care of the personal interests of the minister and his permanent secretary, Mr Sammy Kirui in the transaction of cemetery land,” says the report.

Mr Mudavadi, through his spokesman, Mr Kibisu Kabatesi, has denied sending anyone to represent him in any transaction.

In her statement, Ms Ng’ethe is recorded as having said that there was pressure from the Local Government ministry to “fast track the acquisition of the cemetery land”, according to the report. Ms Ng’ethe chaired the City Hall team that bought the land.

The council was buying the land from Mr Henry Muoki Kilonzi, but he was paid only Sh110 million. The rest was distributed to 17 other people, with Mr Osiemo, getting the lion’s share, Sh59 million, said the report. The report recommends 13 people be prosecuted and wants Mr Mudavadi, Mr Kirui and Mayor Geoffrey Majiwa investigated further.

On Tuesday, Dr Mutonyi said that the commission would carry out thorough investigations and pursue any leads implicating any individual, irrespective of who they were.

In his statement, Mr Mudavadi said he was “deeply distressed” at the “false and most scandalous information” alleging that he was involved in the procurement of the land by the City Council.

“It is unfair, in breach of rules of natural justice and irresponsible for damaging allegations about me to be released to the public without even giving me the opportunity to respond to them,” he said and revealed that he had requested KACC to record his statement.

He described the reports of his alleged involvement in the fraud as “a political scheme”.

Mr Mudavadi also complained that no attention appeared to have been paid “to the fact that I have been at the forefront of pressing for in-depth investigations to be undertaken and culprits brought to book.” He said he was confident investigations would find him innocent. Asked whether Mr Mudavadi should step aside, Dr Mutonyi said: “The decision on whether the DPM, who is under investigation, should step aside or not lies with other powers or authorities.”

Dr Mutonyi, while addressing journalists on the sidelines of an anti-corruption workshop in Nairobi, said the commission would move fast to implement President Kibaki’s directive that all the money paid out for the plot be recovered from the beneficiaries.

“If we are able to trace the proceeds of this crime, we shall move fast and recover them straight away. We will not have to wait for the court’s decision,” he said.

He added: “For instance if the money was used to purchase land, a motor vehicle, or chairs, we shall recover it without any hesitation and it will become property of the government.

“But even if we are unable to trace tangible property, or unable to prove that someone bought the property, we shall do so through restitution.”

Already, 13 top officials in the ministries of Local Government and Finance have been suspended by the President over the allegations.

They include Local Government PS Sammy Kirui. They have not been found guilty of any crime, but are required to step aside until investigations are complete.

The parliamentary committee on Local Authorities sparked outrage last week when it released a report on the purchase of the land.

The report showed that City Hall disregarded the advice of the director of city planning on tender documents during the search for the cemetery land. The council’s technical evaluation committee also ignored the criteria set for cemetery land. It went on to declare the land suitable when it apparently knew it was not. The report is now awaiting debate in Parliament. In demanding a ministerial statement from the Justice Minister, Mr Gaichuhie also asked that the House be told whether the said minister was under investigation by the KACC.

The PNU MP asked the Justice Minister to confirm to the House that the senior minister would step aside to pave way for investigations “in line with Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s position that the war against corruption must be personalised”.

In his request, the MP also asked for a confirmation that Mayor Majiwa received Sh11 million from the sale.

Dr Boni Khalwale, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, asked the government to confirm reports that Mr Osiemo has since gone missing. “This is a matter of life and death and the lawyer’s family need to be assured of his security,” said the Ikolomani MP.

But Vihiga MP Yusuf Chanzu, Cabinet Minister Otieno Kajwang’ and an assistant minister for Local Authorities Lewis Nguyai complained that the statement had been requested in an unprocedural manner.

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