Some Sh743 million worth of stolen assets and cash were traced and frozen in the past 11 months as the newly established Asset Recovery Agency (ARA) flexed its muscles in the war against corruption.
The agency says in a newly released report that most of the assets are proceeds of crime from the National Youth Service (NYS) scandal that is still under investigation and prosecution by the various State agencies.
The list of recovered assets includes five plots of land worth Sh169.2 million, five motor vehicles valued at Sh43.5 million, a city restaurant valued at Sh16 million and cash in various bank accounts totalling Sh128.6 million.
The remaining Sh385.9 million are in the form of assets frozen in a tax evasion case involving Eastleigh Mall where the ARA has obtained court orders barring the owners from selling or transferring assets until an application to take control of the building to recover unpaid revenue has been determined.
ARA director Muthoni Kimani told Parliament that the agency is facing challenges involving human resource capacity and limited resources that have prevented it from aggressively going after the thieves.
“Unfortunately we do not have enough people with the skills in financial and forensic audit to help us achieve full potential,” she told the Senate Public Accounts and Investments Committee (PAIC).
The committee heard that the ARA was until November last year unable to move to court because it was yet to be operationalised.
“Since November we have been able to move to court for the NYS case and freeze some assets because the investigators were able to trace some assets and monitor how the funds were moving,” Ms Kimani said.
The ARA director told the Senators that the agency gives priority to sensitive cases that are of great public interest, explaining why most of the frozen property is linked to the NYS scam.
“If a matter is sensitive we prioritise it by making available all the resources needed and the investigation is fast tracked,” she said.
Among the five parcels of land believed to have been bought with proceeds of the NYS cash theft is a plot in Thika valued at Sh35 million and another one in Muthaiga valued at Sh45 million belonging to embattled businessman Ben Gethi’s mother, Charity Wangui.
Other properties identified for seizure and registered under Ms Wangui’s name are a house in Rosslyn Estate valued at Sh63.5 million and a jeep valued at Sh6.3 million.
Ms Wangui has, however, denied in court filings that any of the parcels of land, houses or the Range Rover linked to the NYS scam are registered to her.
A plot in Ruiru valued at Sh3.9 million belonging to Samuel Wachenje, a former NYS deputy director (in charge of finance department), has also been preserved in connection to the NYS theft.
Ms Kimani said that once proceeds of crime are squandered, there is nothing to recover which is why the agency is keen on identifying and preserving them.
A month ago, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) told Parliament that the amount of money siphoned out of State coffers through the NYS scam may exceed Sh2 billion as new leads emerge.
The figure is almost three times the Sh791 million widely reported to have been lost in the theft that landed eight suspects in court.
Auditor-General Edward Ouko in a special audit put the amount of money lost in the scam at Sh1.9 billion and identified businesswoman Josephine Kabura as the principal beneficiary of the theft.
President Uhuru Kenyatta in December last year instructed the Attorney-General to amend relevant laws to make it easier for the ARA and other enforcement agencies to freeze and recover illegally acquired assets.
The ARA is established under Section 53 of the Proceeds of Crime and Anti-Money Laundering Act Cap 59B (POCAMLA) as a semi-autonomous body under the Office of the Attorney-General.
It is one of the principal national institutions driving the war against money laundering and financing of terrorism.
A recent poll by Transparency International Kenya singled out corruption as the biggest threat to devolution.
Theft of public funds has ceased to be a reserve of the national government with several county governors coming under scrutiny on public spending.
Ms Kimani said the ARA has to date charged 200 people in various counties, including two governors, and is investigating several others. “However, in one instant involving a governor, we have not been able to make progress following court orders that we should not investigate his accounts,” she said.
The Judiciary has been accused of being a let-down in the fight against corruption by allowing suspects go scot-free even after evidence is presented against them.
At the recent State House accountability summit, the Judiciary was blamed for frustrating efforts of other agencies, including the Director of Public Prosecutions office, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, the EACC and the ARA.