NAIROBI: The government has formally asked Britain to provide it with information about claims that a UK firm bribed state officials.
In the letter by Attorney General Githu Muigai, it emerged that the information sought would revolve around media reports linking British American Tobacco (BAT) to bribery.
The AG’s office also wants the Serious Fraud Office (SFO)—a specialist prosecuting authority that handles complex fraud, bribery and corruption cases—to provide it with legal assistance.
“The Government of Kenya requests the assistance of the Government of the UK through the SFO in the investigation of suspected alleged corruption committed by BAT... this request is premised on the various reports received by the Government of Kenya that your office has concluded investigations related to the alleged corruption practices of BAT,” reads the letter dated February 22 and signed by the AG.
The request could potentially introduce a new dimension to the bribery claims.
Two former Cabinet ministers — Moses Wetang’ula and Martha Karua — are the top former senior officials named by whistleblower Paul Hopkins who worked for BAT in Africa for 13 years.
The media reports claim that BAT paid Sh7 million in cash and via a middleman to Ms Karua in exchange for confidential Kenyan Revenue Authority (KRA) documents that would help it block a rival firm from winning a Sh1.4billion government contract.
The idea was to have the five-year contract deliberately delayed while BAT secretly lobbied to get its own anti-tobacco smuggling system chosen.
The secret donations, according to Hopkins, were falsely listed in BAT accounts as payments for management fees or as expenses incurred in anti-smuggling operations.
Ms Karua described the claims that linked her to a go-between who allegedly received cash on her behalf as malicious. “I am not aware that any donation to my [presidential] campaign was in pursuit of criminal intent. I will give my side of the story and take it from there,” she said.
It was reported that BAT lobbyist Julie Adell-Owino requested the purchase of a business class plane ticket to London for Wetang’ula, and that the minister was to be hosted at Globe House — BAT’s London headquarters.
Wetang’ula denied knowledge of the existence of Globe House or its location.
Responding to the allegations, Wetang’ula said: “I find the allegation that the trip was funded by some private corporate nauseating, unfortunate, scandalous, malicious and slanderous to the extreme. For the record, I have no dealings of any nature whatsoever with BAT; and Julie Adelle-Owino, the officer said to have facilitated the transaction, has categorically denied ever procuring a ticket for me.”
Wetang’ula, the Bugoma Senator and co-principal of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD), has maintained his innocence over the bribery claims and demanded an apology from BAT and all media channels that linked him to the scandal.
SFO is part of the United Kingdom criminal justice system covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland and specialises in cases of major economic crimes.
SFO also assists foreign countries to investigate complex fraud, bribery and corruption cases.
The letter from the AG is the latest attempt by the State to compel foreign governments to provide information on investigations about high level corruption cases in Kenya.