Economy

Sh444m seized from Gichuru, Okemo to be used for Covid treatment

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Mr Chris Okemo (left) and former Kenya Power and Lighting boss Samuel Gichuru. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • Authorities in Jersey, which is part of the British Isles, say the Sh444 million will be the first batch of cash seized from Kenyans that will be repatriated to Nairobi—more than eight years after the secret accounts were frozen.
  • The repatriation deal disclosed by Jersey indicates the millions of shillings will be used for purchase of medical supplies to ease the burden of Covid-19 treatment, especially in rural areas where the public health system is creaking with scarce ICU units.
  • The Royal Court of Jersey said the Gichuru-Okemo slush fund received bribes in hard currency estimated at Sh997 million (£3.9 million and $4.2 million), but only half of the entire loot was found and seized last month.

Kenya and Jersey authorities have struck a deal that will see Sh444 million seized from the secret offshore banks belonging to former Kenya Power boss Samuel Gichuru and ex-Energy minister Chris Okemo repatriated.

Authorities in Jersey, which is part of the British Isles, say the Sh444 million will be the first batch of cash seized from Kenyans that will be repatriated to Nairobi—more than eight years after the secret accounts were frozen.

The repatriation deal disclosed by Jersey indicates the millions of shillings will be used for purchase of medical supplies to ease the burden of Covid-19 treatment, especially in rural areas where the public health system is creaking with scarce ICU units.

The Royal Court of Jersey said the Gichuru-Okemo slush fund received bribes in hard currency estimated at Sh997 million (£3.9 million and $4.2 million), but only half of the entire loot was found and seized last month.

Mr Gichuru and Mr Okemo had subtly wired large sums from the Jersey account to themselves in the years to 2002 and authorities were only able to recover and forfeit foreign currency amounting to Sh526 million and Sh444 million will now be wired back to Kenya after deducting court expenses.

“These funds belong to the Kenyan people. Once finalised, the first return under this agreement by the Attorney-General of Jersey will, at the request of the Government of Kenya, provide Sh444 million towards the Covid-19 recovery,” Jersey authorities said in disclosure appearing on its State website.

“This includes the procurement of essential medical equipment and supplies, and supporting health infrastructure in counties where there is limited funding, high risk of infection and limited bed capacity. It will also contribute to strengthening healthcare worker capacity and enhancing home-based care. All funds will be channelled directly through implementing partners.”

Nearly three quarters of Kenya’s intensive care unit (ICU) beds are in the two largest cities, Nairobi and Mombasa.

Yet the coronavirus is spreading into rural areas where hospitals have no basic items like oxygen.

The asset seizure proceedings and judgment offer a detailed breakdown of the goings-on in the secret account and a rare glimpse of the extent to which the duo benefited from their systematic bribery scheme.

The scheme was executed through Windward Trading Ltd — the entity through which Mr Gichuru received hefty kickbacks to award suppliers lucrative tenders during his two-decade tenure at the helm of Kenya Power that ended in 2003.

Mr Gichuru in August 1986 set up Windward Trading in Jersey as the entity which would receive bribes disguised as ‘commissions’ or ‘consultancy fees’ from firms which won Kenya Power tenders.

Walbrook Trustees (Jersey) Ltd were the administrators and face of the company and would wire kickback received to Mr Gichuru and Mr Okemo.

However, in May 2002, Walbrook filed a suspicious transaction report with Jersey authorities and refused to make any further payments to Mr Gichuru from these accounts, leading to a freeze on the accounts. 

The secret accounts were also unearthed by Mr Gichuru’s messy divorce case where his wife lifted the lid on his hitherto secretive offshore accounts, prompting Jersey authorities to further investigate the matter.

Windward on February 24, 2016 pleaded guilty to one count of possessing proceeds of crime and three counts of acquiring profits from criminal conduct.

A court in Jersey issued a warrant for the arrest of Mr Gichuru and Mr Okemo on April 20, 2011, but the two have challenged the move through multiple legal suits in Kenyan courts.

The Supreme Court is set to hear and determine whether the two should be extradited after the Court of Appeal quashed an earlier ruling granting the government permission.

The Director of Public Prosecutions wanted the two sent Jersey to face corruption and money laundering charges.

Mr Gichuru and Mr Okemo face a jail term of up to 14 years each if they are extradited to Jersey and found guilty of the racketeering charges preferred against them.

Interestingly, Kenyan authorities have never opened criminal proceedings against Mr Gichuru and Mr Okemo, whose bribery scheme cost taxpayers billions of shillings and hurt the development of power plants — ushering in power blackouts and expensive electricity.

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