Economy & Politics

How UK sleuths unearthed Kenya ‘Chickengate’ scandal

An Interim Independent Electoral Commission training session for presiding officers to oversee the 2010 constitutional referendum. PHOTO | FILE
An Interim Independent Electoral Commission training session for presiding officers to oversee the 2010 constitutional referendum. PHOTO | FILE 

The four-year investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) into allegations of British firms dishing out bribes codenamed ‘chicken’ to Kenyan officials to secure deals reads like a chapter off one of Shakespeare’s plays.

The multi-million-shilling corruption scam has now acquired the tag ‘chickengate’ and takes its rightful place in Kenya’s hall of shame which features other mega scandals such as the Goldenberg and Anglo Leasing.

But the meticulous nature in which SFO did their forensic audit into the various deals involving  Smith and Ouzman (S&O) executives and Kenyan managers puts to shame State agencies such as the Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DCI) and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC).

SFO detectives retrieved damning e-mail exchanges between S&O and Kenyan electoral and examinations officials, shipping invoices and local purchase orders (LPOs) used by the procuring entities, to put a solid case of corruption.

The SFO is the UK’s independent government department responsible for investigating and prosecuting serious and complex fraud syndicates including bribery and corruption.

It was established in April 1988 and is headed by David Green, a former prosecutor who is also designated as a Queen’s Counsel (QC).

“Its purpose is to protect society by investigating and, if appropriate, prosecuting those who commit serious or complex fraud, bribery and corruption and pursuing them and others for the proceeds of their crime,” the agency says.

The case against officials at the defunct Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) and the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC) opened in October 2010 and trial began last week.

SFO’s report was then packaged into a 65-page trial affidavit and the agency picked lawyer Mark Bryant-Heron as the prosecutor to hunt down S&O executives in court.

Court filings by Mr Bryant-Heron, one of the UK’s leading attorneys in criminal fraud, provides a blow-by-blow account of how S&O wired ‘chicken’ to their local agent who then distributed it to beneficiaries.

SFO, unlike the DCI and EACC, has investigated and prosecuted both small and the biggest frauds in Britain, some involving Kenyan officials.

Oxford Publishing Ltd was in 2012 ordered to pay £1,895,435 (Sh170.4 million) after it voluntarily reported to SFO that some of its agents had paid bribes to Kenyan and Tanzanian government officials to win contracts to supply school books.

The ‘bribe’ was paid out through the Nairobi-based Oxford University Press East Africa, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the British publishing firm.

In July 2007 the SFO opened a criminal investigation into the Anglo Leasing scandal but was forced to discontinue the probe after the Kenyan government refused to offer mutual agreement.

“The director of the SFO has exercised his discretion to terminate the investigation as there is currently no reasonable prospect of conviction without the evidence from Kenya. If evidence is received from Kenya in the future, the Director will consider reopening the investigation,” SFO said in a statement.

SFO invites whistle-blowers to confidentially report cases through its online web portal.