S K Gichuru, Okemo out on bail in power fraud drama

Nambale MP Chris Okemo (left) and former Kenya Power and Lighting boss Samuel Gichuru.  Photo/FILE
Nambale MP Chris Okemo (left) and former Kenya Power and Lighting boss Samuel Gichuru. Photo/FILE 

In public, and for many years, Samuel Gichuru cut the image of a gentleman. He appeared in crisp Savile Row suits that matched his image as the managing director of the then well-oiled Kenya Power and Lighting Company. He also tossed his wealth into real estate, farms and commercial properties in Nairobi, Mombasa and Nakuru.

On Monday, as he took stairs to the basement of the holding cells at the High Court in Nairobi, where thieves, murderers, conmen and suspects like him are held awaiting payment of fines, bonds or for transfer to prison, memories of Mr Gichuru’s fast-lane past must have resurfaced.

With him was former Finance Minister, Chris Okemo, who like Gichuru is wanted in the Island of Jersey to answer charges on fraud and money laundering.

Before the Island of Jersey asked for the arrest of Mr Okemo, the Nambale MP, had become the voice behind the bid by parliament to have Charterhouse Bank re-opened. The bank was closed after being accused by Central Bank of money laundering.

On Monday, both Mr Okemo and Mr Gichuru were united in a singular fight as they surrendered before Nairobi Principal Magistrate Grace Macharia.

This marked the start of extradition hearings against the two for fraud and money laundering. They were released on a Sh1 million bail each.

Nairobi Principal magistrate Grace Macharia also ordered that the two deposit their passports with the court pending the hearings for extradition to New Jersey which resume on August 4.

The proceedings follow a request by authorities in the Island of Jersey for the two to be arrested and sent there to face money laundering and fraud charges.

Senior State Counsel Warui Mungai told the court that the DPP was satisfied there was sufficient evidence to sustain criminal charges against the two based on 13 bundles of documents he had received from the island.

Mr Okemo and Mr Gichuru are accused of abusing their respective offices by using proxy companies to procure public funds, according to documents sent to the Kenyan government by the bailiff and Chief Justice of the Island of Jersey in UK. They are alleged to have received some Sh902 million in kickbacks to award tenders in the energy sector between 1999 and 2002.

Mr Okemo was the Energy Minister between 1999 and 2001 before he was moved to Finance where he served between 2001 and 2003. Mr Gichuru served as KPLC managing director between 1983 and 2003.The application for extradition was filed by the DPP a week ago following the request of surrender to the UK in accordance with the Commonwealth Extradition Act.

The two, through lawyer Fred Ngatia, have filed a preliminary objection seeking to block the extradition saying no fair trial could take place within the peculiar court system operated by the Island of Jersey.

Jersey prosecutors have lined up head of Public Service and Secretary to the Cabinet Francis Muthaura, Kenya Power company secretary Laurencia Njagi and a forensic investigator at Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, Bosire Masita as key witnesses in the case against the two prominent Kenyans.

Mr Gichuru is accused of using a chain of intermediaries to receive payments from companies that did business with Kenya Power.

“This was achieved by causing foreign contractors to make corrupt payments into bank accounts belonging to Winward Trading in Jersey Island,” the authorities say. Mr Gichuru is also accused of working under the purview of Mr Okemo, who also served as the Finance minister.

Jersey authorities believe Mr Gichuru was the beneficial owner of Winward, which he controlled through agents, notably David Piesold of Knight Piesold, an international consulting firm specialising in energy projects.

Court documents reveals that Knight Peisold channelled bribes to Gichuru’s personal bank accounts in Jersey through its offshore vehicle known as Camargo.

In total, 1.3 million Sterling Pounds (about Sh186 million) was paid to Mr Gichuru. Winward received 5.5 million Sterling Pounds (786.5 million), $5.4 million (about Sh486 million) and just under one million Danish Kroner between 1986 and 2002.

“The charge sheets also allege that the payments to Winward were calculated as a percentage of the payment made by KPLC to the contractors and that the costs were passed on to KPLC in the form of inflated invoices.

A contractor is alleged to have referred to Mr Gichuru as its  ‘agent” while another company said in an email that the award of the KPLC contract involved payments to the retired chief executive.

Mr Gichuru is said to have used a Gibraltar company known as Arus Management Services to layer payments from Winward to Mr Okemo who was Energy minister despite the fact that both Okemo and Winward banked at the same institution in Jersey.

The trail suggests that the aim was to detach the payments to Mr Okemo from the contractors that had paid Winward. Arus Management Services is alleged to have taken a fee of about two per cent of the transfers for the service.