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Senior judge faces questions on relationship with murder suspect

Saturday February 22 2020

Court of Appeal Judge Sankale ole Kantai

Court of Appeal Judge Sankale ole Kantai is pictured in court on May 21, 2018. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

NATION TEAM
By NATION TEAM
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What began as a relationship with a key suspect in one of the most famous murder cases in Kenya in recent times saw a Court of Appeal judge spend the whole day with detectives Friday.

Justice Sankale ole Kantai was picked up by Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) detectives from his home in Karen, Nairobi, in the morning and driven to the DCI headquarters on Kiambu Road, where he spent the whole day.

Justice Sankale was released later in the evening, though it was not clear if the DCI was planning to prefer any charges against him.

The Nation Friday published a story about how a suspect in a murder trial had reached out to a judge for advice.

The two met at Acacia Premier Hotel in Kisumu and there is evidence of them not only exchanging love messages but also evidence crucial to the case.

The suspect in the case, as it turned out, is Sarah Wairimu, the widow and main suspect in the murder of Dutch businessman Tob Cohen.

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“Good morning. Driver left five minutes ago. He is coming for you,” the judge wrote in one of the messages preceding a meeting between the two at a hotel in Kisumu.

“OK love,” replied Ms Wairimu.

“Pack mosquito repellent if you have,” the judge wrote in another SMS.

“Done.”

After several minutes she wrote: “Hi. Driver has picked.”

Apart from that, Ms Wairimu sent scanned copies of media coverage and story links about her case in court. Police are now trying to establish if the relationship between Ms Wairimu and the judge in any way interfered with Mr Cohen’s murder trial.

Mr Cohen’s body was found in a water tank within his compound on September 13 last year after he went missing for about two months.

Ms Wairimu and Gilgil MP Martha Wangari’s estranged husband Peter Karanja were consequently charged with the murder. The two pleaded not guilty.

The case is yet to officially start in court but it has been filled with drama, starting with who has a right to inherit the former golf millionaire’s estate.

Ms Wairimu was just recently allowed to pick her clothes and makeup from Cohen’s house. She is still fighting to regain custody of two dogs that they owned.

Additionally, Ms Wairimu’s defence team, led by former Director of Public Prosecutions Philip Murgor, is still demanding witness statements from the DPP.

The discovery of a relationship between Ms Wairimu and the Court of Appeal judge may add intrigue to the trial. Among the things detectives are trying to find out is if Ms Wairimu at any point received guidance from the judge in writing her witness statement.

Sources say Ms Wairimu at some point sent the judge a soft copy of her statement, saying: “This is what the police have recorded; peruse, add/remove what is necessary and return.”

The judge received the copy. He then sent the copy to Ms Wairimu, who took it back to the police station.

But police did not delete the previous copy and filed the two reports – the last without an official signature.

Nevertheless, the relationship between the suspect and the judge appears to have gone back many years, when the judge, then a lawyer, registered himself as the beneficial owner of a share owned by a former MP without the knowledge of the majority shareholder.

He later transferred the share to the suspect.

This is not the first time Justice Sankale has found himself in controversy.

In 2018, a petition challenging the election of Embu Governor Martin Wambora was delayed after he claimed that one of the parties tried to compromise him.

This forced the court to adjourn the hearing of the case for more than a month, and further warn of dire consequences to those trying to influence the case.

A civil rights group asked Chief Justice David Maraga to name who had tried to bribe the judge. This is yet to happen.

Justice Sankale was among several judges affected by a reshuffle in February 2019 by Chief Justice David Maraga, when he was transferred from Nyeri to Nairobi, alongside Malindi’s Justice Wanjiru Karanja and Kisumu’s Hannah Okwengu and Jamila Mohammed.

The Judiciary said the transfers were normal and routine, in line with the requirement for Court of Appeal judges to serve in a station for two years.