Economy

EACC has little to show on ‘chickengate’ scandal as UK goes after briber’s assets

eacc

From left, former IEBC Chairman Issack Hassan, former Energy Cabinet Secretary Davis Chirchir, SFO director David Green and former Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec) boss Paul Wasanga. The inaction by EACC comes at a time when London authorities are pushing to seize the assets of S&O. PHOTOS | FILE

Kenya’s anti-graft agency is on the spot over its handling of the ‘chickengate’ scandal given that it is now more than a year since a London court convicted the British directors who paid out bribes codenamed ‘chicken’ totalling Sh53 million to Kenyan electoral and examination officials.

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) is still asking for more time to carry out investigations, yet the Southwark Crown Court in London has already jailed the Smith & Ouzman (S&O) executives who gave out the hefty bribes.

EACC chief executive officer Halakhe Waqo said the ‘chickengate’ investigation was on course but termed it as ‘complex’ given its cross border nature.

“We’re waiting for some materials from the UK. We went back to get more information,” said Mr Waqo in an interview with the Business Daily.

Asked when Kenyans should expect to see the ‘chicken’ ‘eaters’ in court, he replied: “Be patient. I cannot tell you when.”

Mr Waqo and the entire EACC secretariat are due to be vetted afresh to gauge their suitability to hold office, under a new law signed by President Uhuru Kenyatta in September.

Top on the list of those who received bribes from S&O include Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Chairman Issack Hassan, sacked Energy Cabinet Secretary Davis Chirchir (former commissioner at Interim Independent Electoral Commission(IIEC) and former Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec) boss Paul Wasanga, according to court filings.

The inaction by EACC comes at a time when London authorities are pushing to seize the assets of S&O, now seen as proceeds of crime.

READ: UK opens assets seizure suit in Chickengate case

ALSO READ: EACC on the spot over slow probe into ‘chickengate’ scam

The British printing firm will be back in court in the New Year for the start of proceedings to attach its assets as a punishment for engaging in bribery.

“The sentencing and confiscation hearing was adjourned to 7 January 2016,” said a spokesman at the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO), which investigated and pursed the case.

Judge Daniel Pearce-Higgins in February sentenced Nicholas Smith to three years in jail while his father, 72-year old Christopher Smith was handed a suspended jail term of 18 months and 250 hours of community service.

Allegations that top officials at the electoral body pocketed bribes has eroded Kenyans’ trust and confidence in the IEBC – which was able to register a paltry 106,000 new voters this year, reflecting widespread apathy.

Six out of every 10 Kenyans or 58 per cent of the population wants the current crop of IEBC commissioners removed, according to the latest poll by research firm Ipsos.

The survey, conducted between November 7 and 19, shows that a majority of Kenyans do not view the IEBC as credible and hence should not handle the 2017 General Election.

John Githongo, a former anti-graft czar, said the indecision by the EACC and the DPP to nail Kenyan suspects was a worrying trend.

“It is unsurprising and disappointing,” said Mr Githongo, who worked as Ethics and Governance Permanent Secretary under former President Mwai Kibaki.

He fled Kenya in 2006 in the wake of the Anglo Leasing scandal after he named top government officials as part of the grand scheme where taxpayers lost billions of shillings.

Other members of the ‘chicken’ gang include former Judiciary Registrar Gladys Boss Shollei (ex-deputy CEO at IIEC), former IEBC chief executive officer James Oswago, lawyer Kennedy Nyaundi (ex-commissioner), Kenneth Karani (senior procurement officer), an unnamed finance director and former Electoral Commission of Kenya commissioner Joseph Khamis Dena.

READ: Grand theft leaves little for Kenyans to celebrate on world Anti-Corruption Day

Following the sentencing of the British executives, director of SFO David Green termed it as the first time the agency had fully prosecuted a bribery case.

“This is the SFO’s first conviction, after trial, of a corporate for offences involving bribery of foreign public officials,” said Mr Green on December 22, 2014.

“Such criminality, whether involving companies large or small severely damages the UK’s commercial reputation and feeds corrupt governance in the developing world,” he said.

Observers reckon that a familiar pattern of handling major corruption scandals has been established in Kenya.

Whenever a scandal breaks out, the EACC swiftly moves in and promises to get to the bottom of the matter. The suspects are then summoned by the agency for questioning at Integrity Centre, grilled for hours in the company of high-flying lawyers, then line up for photo ops and address the media.

Judicial review

When their day in court comes, the suspects employ all manner of legal techniques to defeat the case: filing counter suits, seeking judicial review or rushing to higher courts to delay or stop cases from proceeding.

Opposition chief Raila Odinga has accused the EACC of not being serious about investigating the ‘chickengate’ scandal.

Mr Odinga argues that it is baffling that London has proved that indeed ‘chicken’ was paid out to Kenyan officials, but the EACC and the DPP have been unable to nail those who feasted on S&O’s ‘chicken’ delicacy.

“The counterparts abroad who were involved in that scandal are now in jail. They were prosecuted. Those here are scot free and we are being told by the EACC they have not seen evidence. I have no respect for the EACC,” said Mr Odinga.

Court papers filed in London show that S&O paid out £349,057.39 (Sh53.2 million) in bribes to win tenders at the defunct Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC), the predecessor to the current IEBC, and the Knec.

S&O, founded in 1845, has an estimated annual revenue of Sh910 million ($10 million) from its specialised printing business of security documents such as examination and ballot papers.

S&O lists some of its top customers in Kenya as the IEBC, Knec and other government agencies. The anti-graft agency has already quizzed Messrs Hassan, Chrichir and Wasanga on their role in the ‘chicken’ scandal.

However, it has maintained a studious silence on why it has not lined up other members of the ‘chicken gang’ for questioning including Ms Shollei, Mr Oswago and S&O’s local agent Trevy James Oyombra who was the conduit through which S&O bosses in London would make the bribery payments. He would in turn discreetly wire the bribes to electoral officials’ bank accounts.

Maina Kiai, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, has called for the disbanding of the current IEBC ahead of the next general polls.

“The current IEBC bungled the last elections,” he said, pointing out that there are “credible claims of some of its members being involved in corruption via the infamous ‘chickengate’ scandal that led to convictions in the UK.”

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