Agencies target Sh226b assets in war against graft

Monday, June 21st, 2021 00:00 |
Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission chairman Eliud Wabukala during a past appearance before the Senate. Photo/PD/File

Eric Wainaina @Ewainaina

 State agencies involved in the fight against corruption are seeking to recover property worth Sh226 billion believed to have been acquired corruptly. 

The properties are owned by high-ranking individuals serving in the national and county governments and their associates, mostly used as proxies in corruption deals.

Some of the targeted individuals are facing corruption cases in various courts while others are still being investigated, according to sources in the anti-corruption agencies.

Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji says the agencies have narrowed down on properties, assets and cash worth Sh226 billion.

Haji says once successfully prosecuted, the government will move in to recover the property and assets of the affected individuals.

“In corruption cases, the conviction rate increased from 37.6 per cent in 2017 to 70 per cent in April 2021.

The amounts involved in the 140 high profile cases pending before the court as at April is Sh226 billion, with 59 per cent of these cases being registered in court between January 2018 and April this year,” Haji said.

“Given the precedence that has been set, the suspects involved, if found culpable, will be required to surrender the property worth billions of shillings in their possession,” he said.

The anti-corruption institutions, among them the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and the Assets Recovery Agency, are pursuing individuals suspected to have used their positions to steal from the public coffers or used associates, including close family members, to plunder public resources.

Several former State officials have already lost property worth hundreds of millions of shillings while others, including six current and former governors are fighting to protect their assets worth billions of shillings from being seized. 

Two weeks ago, EACC revealed that it was pursuing property worth billions of shillings belonging to some governors suspected to have been either grabbed or are proceeds of crime.

EACC vice-chairman Sophia Lepuchirit notes that in the last five years, the commission has recovered Sh25 billion worth of ill-gotten assets held by different individuals and surrendered back for public benefit.

People Daily established that an approximately Sh6.2 billion worth of assets was recovered in 2020 alone. EACC, according to Lepuchirit, is also currently pursuing to recover assets worth Sh25 billion.

“With the support of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the commission is in pursuit of more than Sh25.5 billion of ill-gotten assets held by different individuals in the country,” Lepuchirit said, signalling more pain for individuals holding ill-gotten wealth.

Besides successfully asking the court to have former public officials and tenderpreneurs to forfeit ill-gotten wealth, the commission is currently pursuing multi-billion shilling assets linked to former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko, former Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu, Murang’a Governor Mwangi Wa Iria, Okoth Obado (Migori) and Moses Lenolkulal (Samburu), all of who are facing corruption changes.

Recovery suits

While EACC has filed recovery suits against Obado,Wa Iria and Lenolkulal’s assets, its chairman Rev Eliud  Wabukala told Senate Legal Affairs Committee that detectives are eyeing Sh11 billion properties linked to former Nairobi  Governor Evans Kidero, Sonko, Waititu and Lenolkulal.

For instance, Obado risks losing his Loresho Ridge House, two luxury motor vehicles and monies held in several bank accounts, all running into millions of shillings.

“This suit is for the recovery of assets valued at Sh73,474,376/- procured with proceeds of contracts with the County Government of Migori, which were fictitious or otherwise procured irregularly or in circumstances of conflict of interest,” read the suit papers by EACC.

Anti-Corruption Court has already frozen several properties in Umoja Innercore, Nairobi and 13 acres in Mweiga, Nyeri worth millions of shillings associated with Wa Iria.

EACC argues that Wa Iria influenced the award of  Sh542,610,615 tender to Top Image Media Consultants Ltd — a firm detectives say is owned by his relatives and associates, and part of the cash was used to purchase the assets.

The governor has, however, denied owning the properties in question.

Lenolkulal on the other hand risks losing Sh500 million wealth held in property, which include four prime properties in the upmarket Karen area in Nairobi and Sh14.6 million in a bank account.

EACC says unexplained wealth is one of the innovative strategies it is employing to recover corruptly acquired public assets.

“The commission has been obtaining judgments that places a legal responsibility on individuals suspected to own assets disproportionate to their known legitimate incomes to account for how such wealth was acquired,” says EACC Chief Executive Twalib Mbarak.

For instance, on March 11, Patrick Abachi, who served as a junior accounting clerk at Treasury and who was believed to have facilitated the infamous Anglo leasing scandal where taxpayers lost billions of shillings in fraudulent tenders painfully paid for his role in the mega scandal after he lost his wealth then valued at Sh65 million.

Abachi who served at the ministry between 2003 and 2007 when the scandal was executed lost his home, land and apartments in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kajiado and Machakos, five vehicles and Sh1.9 million in cash after he failed to explain how he amassed the wealth whose value was over Sh65 million in 2008.

“The court found that Patrick Abachi is the owner or beneficial owner of all the assets; was suspected to have been involved in corruption that revolved around the Anglo Leasing contracts; and that in the five-year period that he was reasonably suspected of involvement in corruption, he had acquired assets whose value, as at 2008, was estimated to be in excess of Sh65,000,000,” said EACC.

EACC filed a suit in September 2008, seeking the forfeiture of certain property owned by the defendant after investigations revealed that despite him earning Sh53,000 monthly, he had “assets well beyond his known legitimate sources of income” which was  “as a result of corrupt conduct related to the Anglo-Leasing contracts”.

Jail terms

Dr Samuel Nyandemo, a senior Lecturer at the School of Economics at the University of Nairobi, said for the fight against corruption to succeed, those found culpable and are unable to explain their wealth must be forced to surrender it and given jail terms that match the value of the stolen amounts.

“Corruption must be fought from all angles and through all strategies. We want to see more of  assets recovery and sentences that are commensurate with the amounts stolen so that people can think twice before stealing public money,” Nyandemo said.

Kidero, who is facing several corruption charges in various courts, is on EACC’s radar over accumulation of wealth valued at Sh8 billion invested in property, shares and cash in bank accounts.

But Kidero has defended himself, saying: “I acquired the property I have before I went to City Hall. I was not a public servant. The time I was at City Hall I acquired only one property.”

Waititu also risks losing several properties and buildings spread across the city that are estimated to be worth Sh2 billion.

The properties include luxurious mansions in the upmarket Runda estate in Nairobi, Delta Hotel building located in Nairobi CBD and another located along Koinange Street, as well as a luxurious hotel in Naivasha.

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