The Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) has frozen five bank accounts belonging to Nairobi Governor Mike Mbuvi Sonko as it investigates possible claims of theft of public funds and money laundering.
The accounts were frozen in late December but Mr Sonko has challenged the orders, which also allowed the agency to look at his statements of accounts, account opening statements, cash and cheque deposit slips, withdrawals and RTGS from January 2017 to date.
A Nairobi magistrate had given ARA 90 days to investigate the accounts together with those of two other persons and companies, both of who are facing graft charges together with Mr Sonko.
On Wednesday, chief magistrate Martha Mutuku directed all the banks named in the court documents to be served and respond to Mr Sonko’s application challenging the freeze orders. She also directed all parties to appear before her on January 27 to argue the application.
The named banks are KCB Group #ticker:KCB, Diamond Trust Bank #tickerDTB, I&M Bank #ticker:I&M, Sidian Bank, National Bank of Kenya #ticker:NBK, Bank of Africa, Equity Bank #ticker:EQTY, Co-operative Bank #ticker:COOP and Credit Bank.
Other than Mr Sonko’s accounts at NBK, Co-op Bank, KCB and DTB, the agency also sought to investigate the accounts of Anthony Mwaura, Toddy Engineering Company Ltd, Hardi Enterprises and Bright Wamaitha Ng’ang’a. Mr Mwaura is a director of the two companies.
The Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) has accused Mr Sonko and his associates of conspiracy to commit corruption, failure to comply with laws related to procurement, unlawful acquisition of public property and laundering the proceeds of crime.
The accused denied a total of 19 counts over procurement tenders amounting to Sh357 million. The magistrate further barred Mr Sonko and the officials from accessing the county government offices, unless with permission from the investigator and for purposes of picking their belongings. ARA successfully sought orders to access, investigate and be supplied with the documents sought and relating to the bank accounts.
While seeking the orders, the agency alleged that the accounts had received suspicious money transactions, which are believed to be proceeds of crime from illegal financing, theft and money laundering activities from the Nairobi County government.
ARA further said Mr Sonko and other persons named were likely to withdraw the money unless the orders were granted and frustrate the investigations. The court was also asked to restrict debits for a period of 90 days on the said accounts. But in his application, Mr Sonko said he had been unable to access his bank accounts since December 23, a move that was affecting him and his family and the court should intervene.
Through his lawyer, Mr Sonko said freezing his bank account was unjust, oppressive and unconstitutional and without merit. He said the court was not given compelling reasons or proof to raise reasonable suspicion on claims of fraudulent transactions related to his bank accounts, but only unsubstantiated allegations. He further said ARA did not demonstrate, establish or even link the money in the frozen bank accounts to any loss of funds at Nairobi City County as alleged.
Mr Sonko reckons that any investigations must be conducted fairly and he has a right to his funds, adding that he is now unable to financially support himself or his family because he cannot even receive his salary as the Governor of Nairobi. He said the order was oppressive and unjustified.
He further stated that he was not the governor in January 2017 and that the agency was engaging on a fishing expedition and witchhunt.
“It is extremely dangerous precedent and a wholly unconstitutional move to freeze the applicant’s specific bank accounts based on a nebulous and unspecified pleading by the Assets Recovery Agency in the manner as has transpired in this instance,” his lawyer stated.