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4 convicted of Sh6m fraud at Pensions Department

Saturday March 14 2020

Pensions fraud suspects

Sophie Mugwe and Millicent Weruma in a Nairobi court on March 13, 2020, when they were convicted of several offices in connection to an attempt to steal Sh6 million from the Pensions Department. PHOTO | PAUL WAWERU | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

JOSEPH WANGUI
By JOSEPH WANGUI
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Four senior officers at the Pensions Department have been convicted of corruption-related charges involving abuse of office and attempting to steal Sh6 million by inflating amounts payable to retired civil servants.

After an eight-year trial, Millicent Weruma, Sophie Mugwe, Paul Thuo and Edward Amiani were found guilty on Friday.

They were found guilty of committing the offences between 2009 and 2010 at the department’s office in Bima House, Nairobi, with others including ICT officers.

At the time, Ms Weruma, Ms Mugwe and Mr Thuo were account assistants while Mr Amiani was a clerical officer.

They inflated amounts payable to six retirees by Sh1 million each.

ACCOMPLICES

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Chief Magistrate Lawrence Mugambi of the Milimani Anti-Corruption Court said the investigating officer failed to arrest their accomplices in the IT office..

The IT officers manipulated the Pension Information Management System (PIMS) such that the digital payments process could not be traced.

“The investigating officer, by identifying the four accused persons only, though they duly played their part and participated in committing these crimes, merely scratched the surface. This is demonstrated by the high number of accomplices that can easily be picked out even on evidence before the court alone,” stated the magistrate.

He said there is deep-rooted conspiracy at the Pensions Department yet police are approaching investigations casually.

Mr Mugambi mentioned the role of an employee named Andrew Opiyo, who was in charge of IT office.

In evidence submitted to the court, Mr Opiyo said the audit trail was switched off by a consultant because of memory problems.

But the court questioned the credibility of the explanation because there was no documentation or a communication exchange between the consultant and Mr Opiyo.

MEMORY ISSUES

The court noted there was no evidence that the IT system had memory-related problems that demanded the drastic decision to switch off the audit trail.

The magistrate noted that the move compromised PIMS's security entirely.

Further, none of the IT staff called as a witness in the case confirmed the system had these issues.

“It is curious that Mr Opiyo appears to have made the disclosure when these offences were detected and the investigator appears to have swallowed that, hook, line and sinker. He seems not to have bothered to ask any hard questions,” said Mr Mugambi.

He added that despite resounding evidence from the IT staff, who said those crimes could not have been committed without the aid of IT personnel, not a single person in the office was charged.

MISSING FILES

There was also the fact that some pension files and vouchers used to process payments went missing.

In addition, it was not clear to the court why the investigator did not pursue the registry personnel who had custody of pension files after the payments process was completed, or those charged with the safekeeping of the ledger where payment vouchers and schedules control reports were kept.

“The investigating officer appears to have adopted a casual approach on the issue of the people who were actually identified in Mr Mweu's preliminary report as being the personnel from the Pensions Department that met with Peter Kamande (one of the beneficiaries) and collected part of the proceeds of the excess pension paid to him,” Mr Mugambi observed.

This, he said, provided the investigator with a perfect opportunity to directly unravel what was happening at the time.

“Nevertheless, the fact that many conspirators were not charged cannot excuse the four accused persons whose culpability for the crimes has been proven beyond reasonable doubt. They will therefore have to take responsibility for the parts they played,” he said.

The four, who will be sentenced on Monday, challenged the ruling, saying they were convicted of a non-existent charge.

They said that none of the 14 counts they faced involved an attempt to commit fraud.