Eldoret North MP William Ruto was on Tuesday acquitted of Sh43 million land fraud charges for lack of evidence. His co-accused, Mr Joshua Kulei and Mr Sammy Mwaita, were also set free.
They were charged with fraudulently obtaining Sh272 million from the Kenya Pipeline Corporation (KPC) by selling it plots in the Ngong Forest.
Mr Kulei had been charged with stealing Sh58 million, while Mr Mwaita was accused of abuse of office. In his ruling, Nairobi chief magistrate Gilbert Mutembei said the prosecution had failed to prove that the three received the money from KPC.
“The contention of selling land without being procedurally excised from Ngong Forest was the basis of drafting the charges. The letter to hive off the forest land was signed by the then Forestry minister and 33 parcels of land allocated to various companies and the consent to hive off part of the forest were obtained from the Commissioner of Lands....
“The prosecution failed to produce in court the then Finance Manager Hellen Njue to give her evidence on how she paid out the money. It is, therefore, clear that none of the accused ever received any money from KPC. The prosecution has failed to prove its case thus all the accused persons have no case to answer,” the magistrate said.
After the ruling, Mr Ruto said he was glad to be discharged of fabricated charges. The magistrate’s decision to set him free, he said, has given him faith that he would also be cleared of charges levelled against him at the International Criminal Court.
Mr Ruto was first charged in 2004 together with four others with defrauding KPC of more than Sh272 million over a plot excised from Ngong Forest, but he never took a plea.
The Eldoret North MP was alleged to have received Sh96 million at intervals during the alleged transaction.
He moved to the High Court seeking the dismissal of the criminal case on grounds that his rights were being violated.
The case stalled at the magistrate’s court until October 15, 2010, when a Constitutional Court rejected his plea and ordered that he faces trial.
Four days after the ruling, he was suspended from the Cabinet.
The political debate has now shifted to whether he should get his job back. His party ODM, with which he has fallen out, and particularly the party leader, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, will possibly have a say as to whether he gets reinstated.
On Tuesday, Tourism Minister Najib Balala and Nominated MP George Nyamweya asked for his immediate reinstatement.
“He should resume immediately because he has been acquitted. He should in fact resume his office today because he is a capable minister,” Mr Balala said, arguing that the President does not need to consult his coalition partner, since the reinstatement is “automatic”.
But Kisumu Town West MP Olago Aluoch argued that Mr Ruto should not get his job back because he faces other charges.
“The acquittal will not clear the way for his reinstatement. The government still has a chance to appeal on grounds of hostile witnesses. Ruto still has cases in Eldoret,” he said.
ODM chief whip Jakoyo Midiwo said the party should allow reinstatement.