Ex-PS, former KTB MD sent to jail
COUNTIES | By - | September 11th 2012
By Wahome Thuku
The reality of a reformed Judiciary that treats high-profile criminals same way it would common offenders was felt across the country as three former high-ranking State officials were sent to jail.
Hardly a week after a former Permanent Secretary was sent to jail for three years over Anglo Leasing crimes, another former PS wept in court as she was dispatched to prison, along with two men who served as Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) chief executive and board chairman respectively.
Ms Rebecca Nabutola, former Tourism PS shed tears as the reality of four-years in prison, without the option of a fine, and with the additional penalty of refunding Sh1million, sunk in.
Handcuffed to each other, former KTB Managing Director Dr Ochieng Ong’ong’a and former KTB board member Duncan Muriuki arrived in court for sentencing and left, not for their homes or former boardrooms, but a new experience behind prison walls.
While headed to jail, the former CEO must have been trying to figure out how he would raise the Sh1.5 million he was ordered to pay in addition to the sentence. But in what could be a warning to board members of State corporations who engage in business with the institutions on whose boards they sit, not only was Muriuki given the sternest sentence, but the heaviest cash penalty — he must pay Sh17.8 million which is not optional.
Ong’ong’a who is the son of late freedom fighter Achieng’ Oneko, got three years, while Muriuki was sentenced to seven years, meaning if he does not succeed in appealing, he will probably be freed in 2019 — about two years after the President that Kenyans elect next year will have finished his or her term.
But what must have served as a warning shot for the influential and formerly powerful personalities embroiled in such multi-billion scandals as Goldenberg, Grand Regency, Triton, Anglo Leasing and maize sale saga, was the amount involved in this case — just Sh9.3 million!
There is also the fact that the courts imposed fines, but for each of the accused there were counts for which they were found guilty and sentenced to jail terms without option of paying for freedom.
The non-optional terms the three have to serve are four years for Nabutola and three for Ong’ong’a, but for Muriuki the chief magistrate did not specify if he would serve the two one-year jail terms and the two three-year sentences concurrently, or one after the other.
Interestingly, the money they were accused of conspiring to steal from the Ministry of Wildlife and KTB was ostensibly used at a Presidential function in Masai Mara game reserve.
The shocking sentence handed down by a Chief Magistrate in Nairobi also sent one of the clearest messages on how the Judiciary, headed by Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, plans to make corruption the most “expensive” and riskiest moneymaking venture.
This took place only days after the same court fined former Home Affairs PS Sylvester Mwaliko Sh3 million fine or three years in jail over crimes related to the Sh7 billion Anglo Leasing twin-tenders.
Nairobi Chief Magistrate Lucy Nyambura handled both cases, although she only heard the evidence of the defence in the Nabutola’s team’s case after her predecessor, Cecilia Githua was promoted to serve as Judge.
Nyambura is one of the specially gazetted magistrates assigned to corruption cases.
The convictions make the three signatures appended to KTB approval documents the most “expensive” for a State officer so far in Kenya’s jurisprudence.
The sentencing also bore another nightmare for the three — it broke their careers in public sector spanning decades, and if upheld should they appeal, will render them unemployable in future.
In addition to the four years without the option of a fine, Nabutola will also pay a Sh1 million fine for abusing her office and violating procurement laws failure to which she will serve another two years in jail.
Ong’ong’a was handed a sentence of three years without the option of a fine for the same conspiracy and will pay Sh1.5 million for breaking procurement regulations and fraudulently paying Sh8.9 million to a tour company, Maniago Safaris, linked to Muriuki.
But it was the sentence against Muriuki, who is Maniago’s managing director that left the court audience speechless.
Muriuki, also a director of the KTB board, was jailed for four years for conspiracy to defraud the ministry and the board. He was handed another three years for fraudulently receiving Sh8.9 million from KTB and another fine of Sh500,000 for receiving Sh400,000 from the ministry.
In addition, Muriuki will pay the mandatory fine of Sh17.8 million for the fraud against KTB and Sh800,000 for the offence against the ministry.
The anti-corruption laws have punitive provisions in cases where public funds fraudulently end in one’s pocket because it provides for a mandatory fine worth double the amount stolen.
Nabutola broke down as female court orderlies ushered her out of the packed courtroom and handed her over to prison warders for the journey to Langata Women’s Prison.
Even some well-wishers who had turned up for the session did not quite grasp the enormity of what had transpired.
“Will he have to go to jail today,” asked an employee of Maniago Safaris, inquiring about his employer Muriuki, long after the sentencing.
The three, together with Maniago Safaris, were charged in May 2008.The funds was allegedly spent in a tourism promotion campaign organised by the ministry through the KTB at the Masai Mara Game Reserve in October 2007. Maniago Safaris firm facilitated the trip, which involved a number of Permanent Secretaries, at a time when the proprietor, Muriuki, was a member of the KTB board.
Nabutola faced five charges, four of which were proved by the prosecution. She was found guilty of having abused her office by appointing Maniago to co-ordinate transport to the game reserve and instructing the Catering and Tourism Development Levy Trustees to foot the bill.
The offences were allegedly committed between June and December 2007. The three have been out on Sh500, 000 cash bail each.
Nabutola, 53, has served in various ministries including the Foreign Affairs as a diplomat at the Kenya High Commission in Ottawa and Deputy Head of Mission in London.
In her hey days as Chief of Protocol, Nabutola was one of the most prominent and influential women in Kenya. She also served as Youth Affairs PS and was suspended from the Tourism office when she was charged in May 2008.
“So powerful was she that getting her to record a statement was very difficult,” an investigator said.
“She would either be on an official trip abroad and when she returned she would not go to the KACC but would send her lawyer to say she will not be available,” he said.
As the lengthy judgment was read the three sat pensively in the dock as they have done during hearings. Nabutola kept her eyes to the floor to avoid contact with media cameras.
The other two, however, remained pensive as the magistrate ruled that the prosecution had proved eight charges against them beyond reasonable doubt.
The fines imposed against them totals Sh21.6 million.
“There is no doubt the payments were made and were paid to the second accused (Muriuki),” said the magistrate.
“The money was obtained from the Ministry hence was public funds,” she added.
“The accused had been entrusted with public offices, but they breached that trust,” she added.
Their lawyers had asked for a lenient sentence arguing their clients were first offenders.
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