Deputy President William Ruto on Sunday distanced himself from the Sh40 billion military equipment scandal linked to his office even as investigations are set to cross borders into Rome.
At the same time, CCTV footage taken from the DP’s office on Friday positively identified two of his aides as having been present on February 13 when former Sports CS Rashid Echesa met with officials from Echo Advanced Technologies, an American Company.
Dr Ruto seemed to agree that the meeting took place. However, he said that more people could have been involved in the scam.
“The Office of the Deputy President does not procure for any ministry or department,” said the DP in a tweet.
“Other than 23 minutes in Annex, for months, which government offices involved in the ‘tender’ did the scammers visit? Did they access the Department of Defence? Who facilitated? Who did they meet? Get the truth. Forget the sponsored nonsense in the media."
In another Tweet, Dr Ruto accused his political rivals of launching a smear campaign.
“The desperation of my political competitors on their choreographed smear campaign against WsR is evident even for fools (whom we have a shortage of) to see. Just wait and see where this will end up. Go for the fraudsters. Leave me to serve the nation [sic]," he said.
Mr Echesa is said to have used the DP’s Harambee House Annex office to swindle Sh11 million as brokerage fees from directors of Eco Advanced Technologies Company in the pretext of being in a position to help them win the lucrative tender.
The former CS is also alleged to have forged the signature of Defence Cabinet Secretary Dr Monica Juma to convince his subjects that it was a government deal.
On Monday, Mr Echesa is set to be presented in court for a decision on whether he can take a plea or if the police can be allowed to continue holding him.
It is still unknown whether the scammers or officials from the American military equipment company did visit the DOD as alleged by the Deputy President.
What is confirmed, however, is that the meeting under investigation took place at the DP’s boardroom at Harambee Annex.
A Range Rover, registration KCR 786H, which is believed to have brought Mr Echesa to the meeting, had also been identified as having been driven into Harambee Annex on Thursday morning.
Detectives want to widen their investigations to Rome, Italy, where Kenya’s diplomatic relations with Poland are handled from.
It is believed that some officials from the Embassy may have come into contact with the swindlers just before Mr Echesa flew to Poland to supposedly inspect the equipment which Kenya was supposed to ''buy''.
Another set of detectives is this week set to fly to the US and Cairo to collect what they term as crucial evidence.
Part of what they will be looking for is whether the said company does supply military surveillance software as alleged or it is just a briefcase company acting as a broker to another firm.
The Nation has been unable to find the digital footprint of Eco Advanced Technologies LLC. It does not have a website, social media accounts and does not appear on news websites as having provided similar large-scale projects to other countries.
A search on Sunday evening on Open Corporates, a firm that keeps and shares information about American companies, showed that Eco Advanced Technologies was incorporated on April 3, 2012 as a limited liability company.
Meanwhile, pressure is piling on DP Ruto to step aside after his office was linked to the syndicate.
Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu asked the DP step aside to pave way for proper investigations into the fake arms tender scandal.
Mrs Ngilu said revelations that fraudulent activities of such magnitude were hatched and planned in the DP’s office were shocking and disheartening and had put both the country and the presidency to ridicule.
“It’s disheartening to learn that [the public's trust] has apparently been broken by the Deputy President," she said in a statement on Sunday.
“It is clear, through his own admission, that these activities have been taking place in his office, which he admitted in his tweet [by saying] the meeting actually took place, albeit for 23 minutes."
Ms Ngilu cited past fraud cases, such as that involving Stephen Ngei Musyoka, the proprietor of Makindu Motors.
One Joy Wangari Kamau was charged alongside Mr Jonah Ochieng Osore, a former employee at the DP's office, and three others with defrauding Mr Ngei of millions of shillings through a fake computer tender.
On June 19, 2018, the businessman's firm was given a purchase order document referenced as ODP/SUPLS/0451-404/2018-2019. As a result, he agreed to use his creditworthiness to take a loan from Sidian Bank to finance the project.
The businessman from Makueni County supplied laptops to fraudsters posing as employees at the Deputy President’s office.
Ms Ngilu said: "Stephen Ngei is a victim of the mafia-like scheme. In 2018, in a similar run-in with conmen operating at the DP's office, the trader supplied 2,800 laptops worth Sh200 million but has never been paid to date."
MPs Simba Arati (Dagoretti North), Godfrey Osotsi (nominated), William Kamket (Tiaty) and Ayub Savula (Lugari), ODM director of political affairs Opiyo Wandayi and former Kibwezi MP Kalembe Ndile also called on the DP to carry his own cross.
ODM Chairman John Mbadi said the DP should take responsibility for the matter “which has exposed the integrity of our country and systems of government.”
“It is such a shame that the office of the Deputy President and even our military can be mentioned in such a scam.”
But National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale (Garissa Town) and his Senate counterpart Kipchumba Murkomen (Elgeyo Marakwet) defended Dr Ruto.
“[Many] fictitious deals by fraudsters used to be conducted in many offices, including that of the former Prime Minister, in the same building,” said Mr Duale.
He went on: “ODM should focus its energies on the BBI and 2022. ODM should not reduce itself to rumour mongering and propaganda.”
Mr Murkomen asked why Mr Odinga had not recorded any statement in regard to the Dubai gold scam in which he was mentioned.
Reporting by Vincent Achuka, David Mwere, Lilian Mutavi, Florah Koech, Kitavi Mutua and Justus Ochieng