Economy

State agencies fighting William Ruto, Rigathi Gachagua in court dilemma

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President-elect William Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua display their election certificate at the Bomas of Kenya on August 15, 2022. PHOTO | AFP

Three State agencies are facing a dilemma over how to handle court cases involving the property of President-elect William Ruto and Deputy President-elect Rigathi Gachagua after the two were declared the winners of the hotly contested August 9 elections.

Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA), the Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) and the Director of Public Prosecutions are faced with the ethical decision of whether to push on with or go slow on the suits that involve asset seizures.

Top officials at KCAA on Wednesday remained mum over its court bid to have the title of land issued in the 1990s revoked – a decision that could ultimately lead to the demolition of the Weston Hotel in Nairobi associated with Dr Ruto.

A source at the aviation regulator said the agency was likely to stop appearing in the suit, which the Presidential-elect, in the past, claimed was a political conspiracy against him.

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A similar position was developing at the ARA, with sources at the agency raising doubts whether it would appear in a suit pitting it against Mr Gachagua.

The ARA successfully petitioned the High Court to seize Sh202 million from Mr Rigathi after the cash was deemed proceeds of corruption.

Mr Gachagua, who said the judgment was aimed at undermining his candidacy, has appealed the seizure in a court battle that will require the presence of the ARA.

Lawyers say the President-elect and his deputy would be keen to protect the independence of the Judiciary, but look set to apply pressure on the State agencies to drop the charges or go slow and turn the suits into cold cases.

Lawyer Kibe Mungai said the collapse of the case is a possibility because they (Dr Ruto and Mr Gachagua) are on record saying that cases were brought for political reasons.

“Time will tell. If there were criminal or quasi-criminal cases against the President-elect they will come to an end once he assumes office. As for the Deputy President, it will all depend on the President and whether he will shield or cut him loose,” Mr Mungai said.

High Court judge Esther Maina ruled that the seized Sh202 million came from government agencies but there was no evidence that Mr Gachagua had supplied any goods or services.

Mr Gachagua, whose accounts were frozen in 2020 following a request by the ARA, said the judge had refused his lawyers’ bid to challenge the evidence brought against him.

He told a campaign meeting in late June that, if elected, he would unfreeze the cash and build a rural home to host his supporters for entertainment sessions over roast meat and porridge.

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Mr Gachagua is accused of acquiring more than Sh7.3 billion suspected to be proceeds of crime and a criminal trial is expected to start in September.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Noordin Haji, has lined up 40 witnesses against Mr Gachagua over economic crimes charges.

This places the chief public prosecutor in an awkward head-to-head battle with a Deputy President if Mr Gachagua takes office.

“There will be no energy to fight a powerful Deputy President in court,” said a source at ARA who sought anonymity given the sensitivity of the suit.

Similar sentiments were shared by sources at KCAA over the Weston Hotel suit. Dr Ruto, through his lawyers, had earlier linked the court bid to demolish Weston Hotel to the 2022 presidential elections.

Dr Ruto was on Monday declared winner of the tight presidential election race, but his competitor, Raila Odinga, has rejected the results.

Mr Odinga’s team said the electoral commission’s system had been hacked and polling results manipulated in favour of Dr Ruto.

Yesterday, Weston Hotel lawyer Ahmednasir Abdullahi declined to comment on the direction of the Weston Hotel suit following Dr Ruto’s win.

Adrian Kamotho, who has been arguing cases for UDA, believes Dr Ruto will not interfere with the cases because the President-elect is keen on clearing his name.

“If a decision has already been made, there is a chance to show the appellate court how the judgment or ruling was erroneous. It is in their interest to show the court that whatever finding was made wasn’t correct,” Mr Kamotho said.

KCAA has challenged the National Land Commission (NLC) ruling that Weston Hotel retain the land and compensate the agency at the current market value, drawing opposition from the hotel.

Weston Hotel wants the dismissal of a suit where KCAA wants to repossess the land on which the facility sits. The hotel says KCAA erred in filing a fresh suit in court instead of challenging the 2019 decision of the NLC.

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It maintains that it was an innocent purchaser and that the case was filed with ulterior motives, especially after NLC made a finding that the title was acquired legally.

In 2019, a court stopped the implementation of NLC’s decision.

The disputed public land had been acquired by the defunct Directorate of Civil Aviation in the early 1990s for the construction of its headquarters.

The agency stated that Weston Hotel embarked on rapid construction without obtaining mandatory development approvals from relevant State regulatory agencies.