Former IEBC boss arrested over Chickengate scandal

Thursday February 9 2017

By ABIUD OCHIENG
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By FRED MUKINDA
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Three key suspects in the multimillion-shilling Chickengate scandal, among them former electoral commission chief executive officer James Oswago, were on Wednesday taken to court for fresh charges.

Mr Oswago threw tantrums at the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) officers who arrested him and his co-accused in raids at their homes. He denied the charges and was released on Sh600,000 cash bail.

He was arraigned in court alongside Hamida Kibwana, who was released on the same terms, while Smith & Ouzman’s local agent Trevy Oyombra had to part with Sh 1 million to be freed on bail.

The case before the anti-corruption court relates to an alleged bribery scandal involving Kenya’s election officials and a UK security printing firm Smith & Ouzman, before the March 2013 General Election.

Senior Principal Magistrate Lawrence Mugambi declined to grant them lenient bail terms as had been sought by their lawyers, saying the charges are not minor and that the issue involves public interest.

“The court has also taken into account the fact that the charges they face are related to corruption,” added Magistrate Mugambi.

The prosecution alleged that in May 2010, Mr Oswago, then the accounting officer at the Interim Independent Electoral Commission, failed to comply with the law relating to procurement of goods when he awarded a contract for the supply of 57,000 ballot papers for the South Mugirango by-election to Smith & Ouzman.

AWARD CONTRACT

He is also alleged to have received Sh2 million from Ms Hamida, as an inducement to have the Interim Independent Electoral Commission award a contract to Smith & Ouzman.

Mr Oyombra, on the other hand, is alleged to have corruptly solicited a benefit from Smith & Ouzman Ltd in 2009, as an inducement to have the Interim Independent Electoral Commission award the said foreign firm printing contracts for the Shinyalu and Bomachoge by-elections.

It is further alleged that, being a local agent of Smith & Ouzman, he solicited a benefit from the same firm in the period between 2009 and 2010 to have it awarded a contract to print voter ID forms, supply hot seal electors and card pouches, and print and supply assorted electoral materials. He is also alleged to have received part of the inducement sum agreed upon.

“Ms Hamida corruptly received a benefit of Sh2,232,500 from Mr Oyombra, on behalf of Mr Oswago, as an inducement to award Smith & Ouzman the said contracts,” the prosecution told the court.

In 2013, Mr Oswago was charged alongside three others with four counts of abuse of office and failure to comply with procurement rules.

On Wednesday, lawyer Jotham Arwa told the court that Mr Oswago had shown commitment in attending court in the other matters, and will do the same in the present case.

NOT EMPLOYEE

Mr Oswago said it is malicious to claim that Ms Hamida received Sh2 million on his behalf when she was not an employee of the electoral body nor an agent of Smith & Ouzman.

The case will be mentioned on March 1.

In the early morning raids, Mr Oswago was arrested at his house in Fedha estate, Nairobi, Mr Oyombra at his home in Five Star estate, near Wilson Airport, and Ms Kibwana at her house in Phenom estate, off Lang’ata Road.

The arrests were carried out simultaneously by different teams from the EACC.

They were held at Integrity Centre, the commission’s headquarters for two hours, with their fingerprints being taken before they were escorted to court.

An angry Mr Oswago spoke to journalists before he was escorted in a car to the courts.

“There is no investigation here. There is no single investigation. I repeat there is no investigation. A chief executive cannot be responsible for all the ills of the file,” he said.

He engaged one of the EACC detectives in a brief altercation, shouting at the detective, whom he accused of pushing him while escorting him to the waiting car and insisted he must be allowed to walk by himself.

WERE COMMITTED

In a statement, Halakhe Waqo, the anti-corruption commission’s chief executive, said the offences were committed when the officials worked at the defunct Interim Independent Electoral Commission as well as its successor the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

“Investigations relate to electoral materials and equipment. There is evidence of solicitation and receiving of benefits from Smith &Ouzman to influence award of contracts,” he said.

Smith & Ouzman is based in the United Kingdom and whose executives were jailed in their country following similar investigations by the country’s Serious Fraud Office.

EACC spokesman Yasin Aila said the Serious Fraud Office cooperated with the Kenyan detectives.

“Upon completion of investigations a report was prepared and the inquiry file forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions recommending charges,” Mr Waqo added.

'IRREGULARITIES AND ILLEGALITIES'

Mr Waqo also said: “There were allegations that senior IIEC officials solicited and received bribes to influence the award of tenders to Smith & Ouzman”.

In particular, the EACC investigated claims that the electoral commission officials demanded bribes to influence the award of contracts for ballot papers used for the Shinyalu and Bomachoge by-elections.

Other contracts involved delivery of the 2009–2010 voter ID forms, hot seal electors and card pouches, ballot papers for the South Mugirango and Matuga parliamentary and civic by-election papers as well as nomination forms for the 2010 referendum.

“There were irregularities and illegalities on the procurement of election materials contrary to Public Procurement and Disposal Act. Public officials who were involved breached the procurement law,” Mr Waqo said.