The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) used forensic experts and computer software to verify information it used in a story that implicated Bungoma senator Moses Wetangula in a bribery scandal involving tobacco manufacturer BAT, a Nairobi court has been told.
BBC investigative journalist Richard Cookson says in court filings that he personally used software provided by electronics giant Apple to verify the authenticity of emails exchanged between BAT officials and beneficiaries of the bribes.
Mr Wetangula was adversely mentioned in some of the emails.
He has now sued the British broadcaster for defamation and is seeking damages, insisting the story damaged his reputation.
Mr Cookson adds that he used a forensic expert in the United Kingdom to confirm that the audio clips provided by whistleblower Paul Hopkins were authentic.
The BBC adds that it held a 20-minute interview with Mr Wetangula in which the senator denied receiving bribes from BAT and that the clip was included in the episode that aired on November 29, 2015.
“I took various steps to verify the integrity and authenticity of the paper and electronic documents…these steps included checking the metadata of emails using the “get info” function on an Apple laptop to check that it matched the sender, receiver and date of creation data that appeared in the bodies of the emails themselves.
“Arranging for an independent forensic scientist with expertise in audio analysis and who is regularly used as an expert witness in criminal cases in the United Kingdom to examine clips from recorded conversations that Mr Hopkins provided for evidence of tampering,” Mr Cookson says.
Mr Wetangula, however, says the British broadcaster did not verify claims that he received a first class air ticket in his wife’s name, and that it went on to air the investigative piece without confirming the allegations.
“The BBC failed to verify the second hand story obtained from third parties who were engaged in a self-serving mission. The defendant knew that the story about Mr Wetangula’s wife was false and untrue and reported it recklessly without caring whether it was true or false,” the Bungoma senator says.
Mr Cookson, however, says his colleague, Richard Bilton, left his contacts with the Bungoma senator, but that neither Mr Wetangula nor his lawyers contacted the journalist to object to the impending airing the investigative piece.
Mr Wetangula says the BBC story did not state what favour he was to fulfill to BAT in return for the bribe, something the senator insists waters down the credibility of the allegations.
The BBC story claimed that former East African Breweries Limited corporate affairs executive Julie Adell-Owino while working for BAT organised payment of bribes to senior Kenyan officials—including Mr Wetangula.
Ms Adell-Owino resigned from her EABL position a day after the episode aired on BBC.
Mr Hopkins claims that he was in charge of authorising the illicit payments to officials to fight BAT’s competition unconventionally and to ensure politicians undermine any anti-smoking laws brought to Parliament.
Mr Hopkins said he started paying bribes after he was told it was the cost of doing business in Africa, revealing the entrenched practice in BAT’s African operations.
The leaked documents show Ms Adell-Owino in a July 2012 email requested the purchase of a business class plane ticket to London for Mr Wetang’ula who was then the Minister of Trade.
“Mr Wetang’ula will be “hosted at Globe House, BAT’s London headquarters,” the email says, adding that the transaction should be “paperless” and there should be “no receipts if any in his name”.
Mr Wetangula in the defamation suit against the BBC denies ever being hosted at BAT’s headquarters.
The Bungoma senator adds that the credibility of the BBC’s primary source for the story was questionable because he had not admitted to being a conveyor of bribes and that Mr Hopkins was terminated for misconduct hence cannot be trusted to tell the absolute truth.
But the BBC says it received the same email in which bribes were being sought on behalf of Mr Wetangula from two separate sources, something that gave it credibility.
Mr Cookson adds that all individuals that traded covert emails regarding bribes used pseudonyms in the hope of concealing their identities, but that Ms Adell-Owino once accidentally signed off with her first name in a communication with him.
The BBC included a short clip mentioning that the Supreme Court found in a case that Mr Wetangula had engaged in voter bribery during the 2013 General Election and left the senator’s fate in the hands of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission to decide whether he would be deregistered as a voter.