Long Easter weekend in custody for lands officials accused of defrauding Sh109 million

From Right, National Land Commission Chairman Mohammed Swazuri, Emma Muthoni Njogu, Former Land Commission CEO Tom Chavangi, Salome Ludenyi Munubi, Lilian Savai Keverenge, Francis Karimi Mugo and Catherine Wanjiru Chege at Milimani law court where they were charged with corruption and abuse of office. [Beverlyne Musili/Standard]
Senior National Lands Commission officials will have an unpleasant Easter holiday after they were locked up in custody for four days over alleged conspiracy to steal Sh109 million.

Former NLC Chairman Mohammed Swazuri, CEO Tom Chavangi and Director of Valuation Salome Munubi, are among those who will spend the four days rubbing shoulders with inmates at Industrial Area Prison pending determination of their bail application next week.

The decision by Anti-Corruption Court Chief Magistrate Lawrence Mugambi, to withhold his ruling on the bail application to Tuesday next week, came as a shocker to the 11 accused persons, with their lawyers and family members trooping out of court wondering what to do next.

As thousands of families plan to reunite with friends and relatives to celebrate the spirit of Easter, two couples are among the accused who will spend the four days away from their children for alleged economic crimes which the prosecution declared is worse than murder.

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“The economic crimes of corruption they are facing are worse than murder given that they affect a larger population who will die for lack of basic necessities which have been misappropriated through stealing of public funds,” said State prosecutor Victor Owiti.

The couples charged were Ms Munubi and her husband Sostenah Ogero Taracha, and NLC secretary for Valuation Lilian Keverenge and her husband George Onyango Oloo.

Also charged were NLC Commissioner Emma Muthoni, Director of Finance Francis Karimi Mugo, lawyer Catherine Wanjiru, businessman Samuel Muturi and businesswoman Evahmary Gathondu.

Fourteen other accused failed to turn up in court and were summoned to present themselves at the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission on Tuesday.

In the first count, all the accused were charged with conspiracy to commit an economic crime where it was alleged that they inflated the cost of land compulsorily acquired for expansion of a road in Mombasa.

“Between January 2017 and December 2017, you jointly conspired to commit an offence of corruption through fraudulent payment of Sh109,769,363 for purported compulsory acquisition of land from Tornado Carriers Ltd,” read the charge sheet.

The prosecution allege that the land was valued at Sh34 million, but that the over-payment was wired back to the NLC officials through a kickback scheme involving Ms Wanjiru’s law firm.

Prof Swazuri, Ms Njogu, and Ms Munubi faced additional charges of abuse of office where it was claimed that they used their offices to improperly confer a benefit to the company that surrendered its land for the road’s expansion.

Mr Chavangi and Mr Mugo denied another charge of financial misconduct by approving the compensation package to Tornado Carriers Ltd.

Ms Munubi’s husband and Ms Keverenge’s husband were accused of dealing with suspect property where the prosecution alleged that they were the conduits used by their spouses to receive the kickbacks.

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