Narc Kenya party leader Martha Karua on Friday admitted having received a Sh2 million “donation” to her presidential campaign from an employee of British American Tobacco after a British newspaper sensationally accused her of pocketing a Sh7.5 million bribe to help advance the firm’s commercial interests.
The admission is contained in her responses to questions from Britain’s Independent newspaper which the Sunday Nation obtained from her lawyer Gitobu Imanyara.
“I am aware that a businessman whose name I remember as Paul (Hopkins) affiliated with BAT made what I understood to be a personal donation to my presidential campaign. At no time did I ever discuss the award or influence of contracts/tenders whether at KRA or indeed within any other government entity with Paul or anyone else,” Ms Karua said in response to questions by the Independent journalist David Connett.
“My recollection is that Paul’s donation was about Sh2m. If any person within my campaign team or beyond purported to accept a donation in exchange for influence of government procurement (they were) acting beyond the scope of their authority, without my knowledge and in their individual capacity not for me or my campaign,” she said.
The former Justice Minister, however, denied that the donation was a bribe as the allegations set off a social media frenzy.
BAT could come under investigation by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) over the bribery claims under the UK’s 2010 Bribery Act.
Ms Karua told her more than 440,000 Twitter followers that she “will not tire to say this is absolutely false” as Mr Imanyara, in an email seen by the Sunday Nation, also asked the British paper to “take the earliest opportunity to correct the story”.
BAT has come under scrutiny after Paul Hopkins, its former employee, left the company and spoke to the BBC claiming that the firm offered bribes to public officials to advance its interests.
Senate Minority Leader and Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula was named in a recent BBC programme as having benefited from the company’s largesse, claims he has denied.
Mr Hopkins, a former soldier with the Irish Special Forces who worked for BAT in Africa for 13 years, has admitted to facilitating bribes for politicians during his time with the cigarette manufacturer.
According to the Independent article, Ms Karua allegedly received Sh7.5m (£50,000) from BAT in bribes to block a rival firm from winning a multi-million-pound contract, the sum and intent of which she disputed.
The money was allegedly paid to Ms Karua through her close aide Mary M’Mukindia, currently a board member of the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA). Ms M’Mukindia was then a campaign adviser and fundraiser for her unsuccessful presidential bid in 2013.
“In return for the donations, paid in cash via a middle man, BAT obtained key confidential Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) documents outlining the £100m (Sh15 billion) five-year contract for new technology designed to stamp out tobacco smuggling. They then had the contract deliberately delayed while they secretly lobbied to get their own system chosen,” the newspaper reports.
“The secret donations were falsely listed in BAT accounts as payments for management fees or as expenses incurred in anti-smuggling operations.”
It is not clear when the campaign “donation” was made and what position Ms Karua held at the time. Ms Karua resigned as Justice minister after her relationship with former President Kibaki broke down following the appointment of judges without her input.
According to the report, the key meeting at which Mr Hopkins and BAT’s senior regional legal officer, Naushad Ramoly, negotiated the deal with Ms M’Mukindia – was filmed.
In addition, the Independent claims to have seen emails between Mr Hopkins and Ms M’Mukindia’s campaign email address in which the KRA contract is openly discussed.
While she admits that her political campaign accepted a donation from Mr Hopkins, Ms Karua said she was not aware that he was making a corporate donation. In addition, she said that she was not aware of the contract which she is alleged to have influenced.
When asked whether she was aware of BAT’s interest in the KRA “track and trace” contract, Ms Karua said she had no knowledge of the matter.
“The information from the (Independent) journalist is the first I have heard of it. It has been my personal philosophy and practice to conduct my career transparently and with integrity. Indeed, I campaigned on a platform of anti-corruption,” she responded.
At the same time, Mr Imanyara, her lawyer, threatened legal action. “You chose to run the story without the benefit of her answers in what she considers was a malicious move by you and your newspaper to besmirch her reputation and public record as an anti-corruption crusader who had in fact resigned her ministerial office on account of her disapproval of corruption in government.
While she reserves her right to pursue a defamation suit against you and The Independent she nevertheless wishes to honour her promise to answer your questions which she is doing under a separate email shortly in the understanding that you will take the earliest opportunity to correct the story in today’s Independent.”
Ms Karua, who came sixth in the last presidential elections, denied taking a bribe and said had she been aware of the origin and purpose of the donation, she would not have accepted it.
“My policy was and still is to reject such donations,” said Ms Karua, who also denies ever discussing BAT donating to her campaign with Ms M’Mukindia.
Furthermore, Ms Karua also said Ms M’Mukindia did not tell her she had met with BAT officers. Separately, in a series of Twitter posts, Ms Karua asked her followers to be patient. “Do not celebrate my pain too early I shall be vindicated,” she said.
She said she could not vouch “for what was done by somebody else but any illegality would be without mandate and beyond scope of duty” in reference to what her key aide Mary M’Mukindia may have done.
Campaign financing in Kenya has always been shrouded in mystery with politicians splashing cash whose source is unknown.
In the 2013 election, it was reported that the two major coalitions – Jubilee and Cord – together spent close to Sh30 billion. The Election Campaign Financing Act, 2013 passed in December 2013 sought to rein in on campaign financing and level the playing field.
Section 11 prohibits foreign governments from funding campaigns while Section 12 (1) provides that a commission established by the Act shall, at least 12 months before a General Election, prescribe the total contributions, from a single source, paid-up media coverage and loan forming part of a contribution. Section 12(2) goes ahead to state that “no contribution from a single source shall exceed 20 per cent of the total contributions received”.
The Act remains unimplemented as the regulations necessary for it to take effect have not been gazetted.
The Independent article is the latest to hit opposition political figures after the exposé on Mr Wetang’ula.
The BBC alleged that BAT, which has its East African operations base in Nairobi, in July 2012 bought Mr Wetang’ula a return air ticket to London.
The period coincided with global development of guidelines for World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and Mr Wetang’ula was among African politicians BAT was allegedly using to water down proposed tobacco control regulations.
In the BBC programme, it was also claimed BAT hosted Mr Wetang’ula at The Globe House, BAT’s London headquarters, when he was the country’s Trade minister. Mr Wetang’ula has denied the allegations and threatened to sue the BBC as well as local media reporting the issue.
KRA said yesterday that Ms M’Mukindia was not a board member when the alleged crime occurred.
“KRA is working with the serious fraud unit of the UK and the BBC to get the people involved in the scam and that, if found culpable, they will be convicted.