Former Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) General Assembly moderator David Ritho Gathanju and four former church employees have been charged with stealing close to Sh40 million by servant in a case that threatens to split the church.
Rev Gathanju, who served the church between 2009 and 2015, James Muiruri, Esther Wanjiku, Peter Mwangi and Stephen Kamau have also been charged with conspiring to commit a felony against the church.
Mr Muiruri was not present in court yesterday but his lawyer, Silas Gitari, said he was unwell and his plea was deferred to Monday. The other four suspects denied the charges before Kiambu Principal Magistrate Stella Atambo.
According to the charge sheet, on different dates between January 2, 2016, and June 30, 2017, at the church head office at South C Estate in Nairobi, the five, being servants of PCEA, jointly with others not before court stole Sh39.9 million.
Rev Peter Kania Kariuki has been listed as the complainant on behalf of the church, which yesterday placed a public notice in the local dailies, indicating that the suspects no longer work for the PCEA.
Before the accused pleaded not guilty to the charges, their lawyers unsuccessfully asked Ms Atambo to defer the plea and allow the PCEA to arbitrate the matter, warning that it was likely to split the church.
Retired High Court judge Robert Mutitu, representing Rev Gathanju, said an ad hoc committee of the church was already investigating the matter.
“Even as we take the plea, if there was time, that this matter was to be deferred a little bit, that might probably be the best solution so that soberness can be explored (because) we may probably be doing more harm to the general welfare of the church,” he said.
Danstan Omari, representing the other three suspects, said the case would have “an ultimate consequence” to the church.
But State Counsel Lydia Maari objected to the request.
“The church would have used the avenues they are talking about before the matter found its way to the court,” she said.
Ms Atambo is today set to determine whether the accused will be freed on bail.