Top officials quizzed in Israeli’s Sh14 billion roads tender

Former Transport CS Michael Kamau. [Standard]

Top current and former ministry of transport officials were among those questioned on claims that an Israeli firm paid bribes for a Sh14 billion roads tender.

Israeli investigators say they suspect that in Kenya alone, Shikun & Binui, Israel’s largest construction group “paid bribes totaling tens of millions of shekels” between 2008 and 2010.

This translates to hundreds of millions of Kenyan shillings.

The firm’s subsidiary, Solel Boneh International Holdings (SBI Holdings) won the tender to build Mau Summit-Kericho-Kisumu Highway in 2010.

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The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) confirmed that Israeli police had shared with them some details of the Shikun & Binui case in which 18 Kenyan officials were among the 50 people questioned last year in an investigation conducted by the Israeli and Kenyan authorities.

It is not clear whether they were questioned as suspects or merely as persons who by virtue of their positions could help investigators in both countries unravel the alleged bribery scheme

On Monday, Israeli police and Israel Securities Authority (ISA) announced they have sufficient evidence to try senior executives of the construction company on multiple charges including bribery and money laundering.

In Nairobi, EACC Chief Executive Officer Twalib Mbarak said the agency would be keenly following the case and that he intends to ask the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (ODPP) for the go-ahead to charge any Kenyan indicted.

According to Mr Mbarak, EACC had requested for more details on the case from the Israeli.

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“We will forward the files to the ODPP with various recommendations on this matter for action,” he said.

Mbarak confirmed that 18 Kenyans were summoned, questioned and recorded statements last year when the matter first broke out.

According to Mbarak, those who were questioned include former roads ministers Michael Kamau and Frankline Bett and former Principal Secretary John Musonik. Others include a consultant John Okumu, former Kenya National Highways Authority boss, Meshak Kidenda, his staff James Bowen, Samuel Omer, Linus Tonui, John Ndinika and Bett’s personal assistant, Geoffrey Kimutai.

Others are a consultant David Maganda, Kenya Urban Roads Authority (Kura) officials Mwangi Maingi and John Mwatu, former Kura) CEO Joseph Nkadayo, John Ogango and Justus Bosire of directorate of occupational safety and health.

An official with the National Environment Management Authority and a consultant, Ohad Lavi was also questioned.

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The probe started after the Israeli officials stumbled on a list of names on a computer confiscated from the Shikun & Binui during investigations.

Israel police say officials of the construction firm will face charges related to bribery of a foreign public servant, misrepresentation of corporate documents, conspiracy, disruption of legal proceedings, money laundering and misreporting to authorities between 2008 and 2016.

In July 2017, a former employee of the firm who worked in Kenya, sued the company in Israel for benefits. Although the case was dismissed, allegations of bribery came up against the company, which kicked off investigations.

In February last year, the World Bank opened investigations into the firm’s road tenders, including visits to the Kenyan offices.

“The audit procedure has begun, including the collection of evidence by the World Bank, inter alia, by way of a number of visits to the branch in Kenya to review materials and request additional materials,” Shikun & Binui acknowledged in its annual report.

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Previously, the company has been probed by the World Bank’s Integrity department over projects in Guatemala although a report has not been issued since 2016.

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EACCDirector of Public ProsecutionSh14 billion roads tenderEthics and Anti-Corruption CommissionFormer Transport CS Michael Kamau