Taking turns to cuddle babies who appeared to be of the same age, two members of the unassuming family of cereals trader Lucy Wambui Ngirita caught the attention of onlookers as they alighted from a police pick-up truck at the Milimani Law Courts in Nairobi on Tuesday.
The glimpses could have been out of curiosity, admiration, or sympathy, for the Ngiritas had been driven to court after a night in police custody to answer to the criminal charge of receiving at least Sh60 million from the National Youth Service (NYS) without supplying even a needle, or rendering a service of note.
The Ngirita sisters — Anne Wambere Wanjiku and Phyllis Njeri — looked anything but the ominous charges against them or the treatment police minders were giving them. Ordinarily, a woman carrying a baby receives preferential treatment, but not today.
They were herded into the back of a police Land Cruiser pick-up at Muthaiga Police Station as grown men with more energy and fewer precious possessions to attend to were escorted to court in the relative comfort of Subaru crossover utilities used by investigating agencies.
At the Milimani courts parking lot, they appeared to care little as they joined their mother and brother, Gichini, to wait for the daylong encounter with the law in what promises to be an interesting court case.
The four family members were charged with fraudulently acquiring public property. They had been arrested a day earlier from their Lakeview Estate near Naivasha town where three of their vehicles, including a Toyota Land Cruiser V8, were confiscated by officers from the Flying Squad and the Special Crimes Investigations Unit. They spent the night at the Muthaiga Police Station with the two babies.
GOODS NOT SUPPLIED
The charge sheet read that on “diverse dates between January 19, 2015 and June 12, 2017 in Nairobi, they fraudulently acquired property worth Sh59,846,750 as payment to Ann Wanjiku Ngirita of Annwaw Investment for goods not supplied”. They pleaded not guilty.
The joint charges came as a surprise, since it had earlier been indicated that the family members would face separate charges for amounts totalling Sh300 million.
This would have made them the biggest beneficiaries of the Sh468 million that was paid for nothing, and for which the 20 other people were charged on Tuesday.
According to detectives, Anne has never tendered to supply goods and services to the government, and does not have an office.
The 30-year-old is said to have just walked to the NYS headquarters and asked a procurement officer to allow her to supply goods. On paper, she was supposed to supply foodstuff, stationery, hammers and firewood.
Among those charged was the Youth Affairs Principal Secretary Lilian Mbogo Omollo, NYS Director-General Richard Ndubai, and former acting Director-General Sammy Muchuki.
Ms Omollo denied charges of abuse of office and failure to comply with procedures and guidelines relating to the management of public funds. The prosecution said that their failure to comply with the guidelines led to loss of public funds.
The charges included approving the payment of Sh28 million to Simon Kanai, James Katululu and Ameri Trade Limited between June 19, 2015, and June 12, 2017.
They were further accused of approving the payment of Sh59.8 million to the Ngiritas. Other than abuse of office and failure to comply with the procedures, the government officials also denied charges of false accounting.
WARRANTS OF ARREST
Earlier, defence lawyers had objected to their clients being charged under different files. Senior Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Emily Kamau said the prosecution had 10 different files, with some of the accused persons appearing in some of them. But lawyer Stephen Ligunya, for Ms Omollo, argued that the prosecution was ambushing them by preferring the same charges using different files.
Ms Kamau had also applied for warrants of arrest for those who failed to appear in court but sent their lawyers instead.