Kemri, donor billions, graft and tribulations of a top researcher

Former Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) boss Dr Davy Kiprotich Koech. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG

For more than a decade, researcher and former chief executive of the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) Davy Koech shuffled from one court to another pursuing justice or facing charges.

The cases included criminal charges, labour issues — following his sacking at Kemri — to civil cases, all relating to his tenure at the State agency.

His tribulations worsened last year when a Nairobi court sentenced him to six years in jail for siphoning Sh19.6 million from Kemri. The jail term came shortly after he suffered a stroke.

Prof Koech was accused of diverting millions of shillings from the research organisation to his personal account between August and December 2006.

The researcher, however, insisted that he refunded the entire amount in 2015 plus interest of Sh3 million and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) allegedly promised not to pursue the matter anymore.

The former Kemri CEO was charged in 2009 and the case dragged in court for years until last September when he was sentenced by Milimani senior principal magistrate Victor Wakumile.

Last week, Prof Koech lost another application seeking a review of the sentence when High Court judge Esther Maina dismissed the case, saying the matters he was raising should be addressed in the appeal he has filed.

“A revision is concerned with errors, irregularity, and procedural impropriety of the proceedings and legality of the decision none of which have been demonstrated in this application,” the judge said.

Other than the criminal case, Prof Koech was also accused of fraud, breach of trust, and negligence over the loss of Sh509 million, which belonged to the Kenya Medical Research Institute Staff Pension and Life Assurance Scheme.

The fund was established in 1983 and the same was managed by Kenya National Assurance Company Limited (KNA) up to 1996 when the insurer sank with members’ contributions.

The charges were that he and other trustees misappropriated funds belonging to the pension scheme and the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, the predecessor of EACC sought restitution of the funds.

In 2016, Prof Koech entered into a consent with the EACC, admitting liability for a sum of Sh200 million from the Kemri Staff Pension Scheme. Some amount was recovered from him.

In the intended appeal to the latest case, Prof Koech claims that the EACC acted in blatant violation of his rights by failing to withdraw the criminal case despite acknowledging that he refunded the millions.

He had pleaded with the court, saying he was diagnosed with acute stroke and was on and off the hospital. His situation, he said, has worsened while in prison and he cannot afford to pay the fine unless the court intervenes.

The EACC opposed the application, arguing the fact that he repaid the sum and interest does not stop criminal proceedings against him.

The court noted there was no evidence of the registration in the court of an undertaking, if any, by the EACC as required by law, not to pursue the criminal charges.

Justice Maina said the only evidence of payment are letters by his advocates, which “unfortunately do not meet the mandatory provisions”.

Prof Koech had challenged the charges over a decade ago but the case was dismissed by Justice Kalpana Rawal (then sitting as a judge of the High Court) in 2011.

The Harvard-trained researcher has always maintained that the funds he was accused of siphoning were not public money but belonged to the Centre for Disease Control.

The charges against him were that he diverted Kemri funds to Africa Medical Services Trust (Amset), an organisation which he was a founder and trustee.

He denied the claims of fraud, alleging that Kemri had a collaborative agreement with Amset and it had assisted in research projects.

He claimed that the arrangement would see him borrow from the Amset account, which he could access to get money for the operations at Kemri/CDC Nairobi.

Prof Koech joined Kemri in 1979 and became its CEO in 1989, earning a consolidated salary of Sh622,290.

And as the institution’s founder member, he said he greatly contributed to its growth to become one of the most respected research institutes internationally.

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