Kenya has signed a deal with Switzerland to facilitate the return of stolen cash, in a development targeting an estimated Sh72 billion stashed in Swiss accounts.
President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Swiss counterpart, Alain Berset, yesterday oversaw the signing of the crucial agreement that clears the way for the recovery of ill-gotten wealth hidden in Switzerland, signalling yet another step in the war against corruption.
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Although the communique by the two leaders did not mention a specific figure, past reports have placed the amounts stashed by Kenyans in Swiss accounts at between Sh51 billion and Sh72 billion.
The Government needs that amount to fund free primary and day secondary education for the current financial year. If shared among the 48 million Kenyans, each person would get Sh1,500.
Yesterday, it was announced that the first assets to be targeted by the Framework for the Return of Assets from Corruption and Crime in Kenya (FRACCK) would include money stolen through the Anglo Leasing scandal and hidden in Switzerland.
The two president’s said the agreement would create a mechanism for Kenya to recover money stolen by corrupt individuals and hidden in Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Jersey Island.
Former anti-corruption czar John Githongo, who exposed the Anglo Leasing scandal in 2004, said it was difficult to establish how much was involved.
“What I know is that Sh220 million has been frozen so far in Swiss accounts and the figure may be reviewed once Swiss authorities themselves investigate and establish that money is from proceeds of corruption,” Mr Githongo said.
He welcomed the development, coming days after Switzerland returned $1.2 billion (Sh120 billion) to Nigeria after President Mohamadu Buhari signed an agreement with the Swiss Government early this year.
Uhuru said the signing of the agreement at State House, Nairobi, was part of his resolve to eliminate corruption in the country, saying that his stand on the vice was clear.
“We have seen, in the past few months, a new intensity in the fight against corruption in Kenya. Quite frankly, my administration has shown that corruption cannot, and will not, be tolerated,” said the President.
“In the spirit of the Global Forum on Asset Recovery’s Principles for Disposition and Transfer of Confiscated Stolen Assets in Corruption Cases, returns should proceed in a transparent and accountable manner with the mutual consent of both Kenya and the partner offering the return,” says the new agreement.
To avoid complicating asset recovery, the framework says recovery should follow executable judgements.
It’s not clear how much will be targeted in the process, nor have names of account holders been revealed as both Nairobi and Geneva remain tight-lipped.
After extending the tax amnesty granted to Kenyans with money abroad for the second time during the budget speech this year, Treasury CS Henry Rotich gave a strong signal that the country would even welcome money acquired as proceeds of graft.
The agreement with Switzerland is another pointer that the Government is determined to force Kenyans with cash stashed in tax havens to repatriate it with no questions asked.
Mr Rotich noted that KRA had not gained what it had targeted when the amnesty was first announced, and not much money had come in in the two years the amnesty was in existence.
This is because Kenyans with ill-acquired wealth are still afraid of the Financial Reporting Centre questioning the source of this wealth. Rotich assured them that under the amnesty, no questions would be asked.
In 2014, the Swiss Government announced it had frozen the accounts of persons linked to the Anglo Leasing scandal and was in the process of repatriating the money stashed in Geneva.
The Swiss ambassador to Kenya, Jacques Pitteloud, and then Attorney General Githu Muigai revealed that the process was at an advanced stage.
However, both officials remained tight-lipped on the identities of the persons whose accounts had been frozen or the exact amount, but an independent source involved in the processes told The Standard that the amount was about Sh1 billion.
President Berset said an MoU signed last year on mutual legal assistance was also key to slaying the corruption dragon.
“The agreement also gives our investigative and prosecutorial bodies new instruments in the fight and lends that fight against corruption impetus,” Uhuru said, adding that asset recovery deterred corruption and the repatriated funds would be “put to work for the good of our country and people”.
A steering committee comprising the Office of the President, the Attorney General, the National Treasury, the Assets Recovery Agency, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Agency and envoys or representatives of partner countries is to be established to implement the deal.