After spending Easter Holiday behind bars for conspiracy to steal Sh109 million, senior National Lands Commission officials got another shocker by being slapped with a Sh12 million cash bail.
Former NLC Chairman Mohammed Swazuri, NLC Commissioner Emma Muthoni, Chief Executive Officer Tom Chavangi, Director of Valuation Salome Munubi and Director of Finance Francis Karimi Mugo were handed a harsh penalty.
Lawyer Catherine Wanjiru was also granted the hefty Sh12 million cash bail for her role in the scandal, in which the prosecution alleged that NLC officials used her law firm as a conduit to receive kickbacks from inflated costs of compulsorily acquired land to expand roads.
Anti-corruption court chief magistrate Lawrence Mugambi ruled that corruption has become so rampant in the country and the only way to ensure public confidence in the judiciary is to grant the tough bail terms.
“Am persuaded that although there are no compelling reasons to deny bail, the amount must be considerate of the seriousness of the offences and what will make a right thinking member of the society to gain confidence in the administration of justice,” ruled Mugambi.
The magistrate’s decision was a bitter pill for Swazuri, coming a few days after he relinquished his glamorous position at the NLC which came with all the tramping of power and state security.
It also came as a disbelief to their family members who thronged the court hoping their loved ones would be freed on lenient terms after four days in custody, with the accused lawyers notifying the magistrate of their intention to appeal.
“It will not be possible for any of the accused persons to raise the Sh12 million cash bail. We have applied for certified copies of the ruling to immediately file for a review at the High Court,” said one of the lawyers.
Mr Mugambi categorised the accused into four groups, with those facing more charges and said to have handled more than Sh50 million of the misappropriated fund getting the high cash bail.
Businessman Samuel Muturi who is said to have received over Sh15 million from the transaction was granted a cash bail of Sh6 million while Ms Munubi’s husband, Sostenah Ogero Taracha who allegedly received the cash on behalf of his wife was released on a Sh3 million cash bail.
NLC Secretary for Valuation Lilian Keverenge, her husband George Onyango Oloo and businesswoman Evahmary Gathondu got the lenient cash bail of Sh1.5 million each after the magistrate ruled that they only handled less than Sh5 million of the stolen public funds.
They were charged on Thursday with conspiracy to commit an economic crime through fraudulent payment of Sh109,769,363 for compulsory acquisition of land from Tornado Carriers Ltd to expand the Kipevu By-pass road in Mombasa.
Swazuri, Njogu, and Munubi faced additional charges of abuse of office while Chavangi and Mugo denied another charge of financial misconduct by approving the compensation package to Tornado Carriers Ltd.
Mr Mugambi ruled that it is for the court to instil public confidence in handling corruption cases by balancing the appropriate cash bail to match the amount allegedly stolen.
“Bail is not absolute; it can be used to stop continuation of the same offence. It is a fact that some of the accused have been charged with similar offences rising from different transaction which is likely to bother right thinking citizens why they get lenient bail terms,” ruled Mugambi.
In the alternative to the cash bail, he ordered that Swazuri, Muthoni, Chavangi, Munubi, Mugo and Wanjiru to deposit a bond of Sh30 million.
He also directed the accused to deposit their passports in court before being released.
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