Heroes seek Kenya’s first top-level graft conviction

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Kenya's Director of Public Prosecution Noordin Haji (L) with Kenya's Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti (R)

Noordin Haji, Head of Public Prosecutions in Kenya and George Kinoti, Head of Police Investigation department are building corruption cases against top Kenyan officials.

This week, the Finance Minister and other officials were charged with financial misconduct, marking the first time police have arrested a sitting Finance Minister in an east African nation notorious for graft.

Both men credit their success in part to an unlikely friendship forged while working together in the field.

Noordin Haji, Head of Public Prosecutions in Kenya

“Prosecutors and investigators never worked together, but since me and Kinoti came into office that has changed,” Haji said at his Nairobi office.

“We do have a personal relationship as friends. We are able to sit down and agree without having turf wars,” Haji added.

The first big case the two worked on together last year was the alleged theft of nearly $100 million from the National Youth Service. Kinoti hand-picked officers he could trust to work on the case, Haji said.

Prosecutors charged 43 suspects, including a Principal Secretary, the most senior career bureaucrat in a ministry. The case against them is still ongoing, but five banks have already been fined nearly $4 million for failing to report suspicious transactions.

Not everyone from the police and prosecutor’s offices liked working together, said Haji. Those who didn’t were edged aside.

“We had to build a team that would gel,” he said.

Kenya’s Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Noordin Haji and Kenya’s Director of Criminal investigations (DCI) George Kinoti take a walk after a meeting.

Kinoti, who bears the scars of numerous shoot-outs – including one where gangsters left him for dead – said police were willing to work with Haji because of his experience and demeanor, honed during 18 years in the Kenyan intelligence service.

Unlike most senior officials, Haji never stood on ceremony, he said.

“He’s the first DPP I can say who is a polished field officer … He knows the pains we undergo in the field,” said Kinoti. “He’s so humble … It has won all my officers.”

KENYA’S WAR AGAINST CORRUPTION

Such pronouncements may be met with scepticism from Kenya’s embattled anti-corruption campaigners, who have seen years of official promises to tackle graft come to nothing while police clubbed and gassed demonstrators demanding change.

“The superlatives are flowing fairly thick, and we’ve been here many times before,” said prominent campaigner John Githongo.

President Uhuru Kenyatta promised to tackle graft when he was elected in 2013, but results have been slow. Corruption continues to drag down economic growth and investor confidence.

Officials are wary of quantifying the total loss, but a Former Head of the government’s anti-graft watchdog said in 2016 that around $6 billion, a third of the annual state budget, was lost to graft in Kenya every year.

Githongo said the charges against Finance Minister Henry Rotich, which stem from an investigation into the misuse of funds in two dam projects, were a good first step. He noted Kinoti has a reputation as a courageous and honest cop.

George Kinoti, Kenya’s Head of Police Investigation

After he was appointed head of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations in January 2018, Kinoti swiftly disbanded the Flying Squad, a unit formed to combat robberies and car-jackings but accused of orchestrating them.

“They thought robberies (on the roads) would rise,” laughed Kinoti. “Instead they stopped!”

For three months, Kinoti said, his phone buzzed with influential Kenyans seeking to present discreet gifts. But, mindful of the Catholic priests who raised him, he filled his office with crucifixes and refused to pick up.

Kinoti and Haji hope for a quick resolution to the case against Rotich and 25 others, including an Italian construction boss.

A specialised anti-corruption court is now hearing the case, although other judges had delayed the investigation, Kinoti said. “They refused us warrants,” he said. “By the time we are succeeding, the documents have … disappeared.”

Haji said such delays should be less of a problem when 15 more anti-corruption courts become operational by the end of the year.

Many Kenyans, however, won’t believe there’s a war on graft until they see top officials in jail, said Boniface Mwangi, an anti-corruption campaigner who has been arrested more times than he can remember.

“We’ve seen high-level arrests,” he said. “Give us convictions, and then we will start to celebrate.”

 

Chidi Nwoke.