Six acquitted in Sh2.3b sugar land case have case to answer

Lady Justice Mumbi Ngugi during a past proceeding. She ruled that the six be put on the defence. [File, Standard]

The Director of Public Prosecution got a boost in his bid to nail eight people accused of grabbing a public land valued at Sh2.3 billion after the High Court ruled that all they have a case to answer.

Lady Justice Mumbi ruled that she didn’t understand why the trial magistrate acquitted six key suspects in the case even after the prosecution provided sufficient evidence to prove all the eight participated in the scheme to defraud 9,000 acres of land belonging to Miwani Sugar Company.

“I find the evidence against all the accused was sufficient in my view to offer an explanation on their defence. The court will, therefore, set aside the magistrate’s ruling that acquitted the seven and order that they are put on their defence,” ruled Ngugi.

The accused, Ian Maina, John Kimani, Philips Odongo, Moses Osewe, Kefa Atunga, Sukhwinder Singh, Epainito Okoyo and Abdulkadir Athman were jointly charged with conspiring to defraud the sugar factory 9,394 acres of land valued at Sh2.32 billion between May 2007 and January 2008.

They allegedly hived off part of the public land and transferred it to Crossly Holdings Limited in collusion with senior lands officials.

The trial magistrate Julius Ng’arng’ar acquitted Maina, Kimani, Odongo, Atunga, Singh and Okoyo while ruling that Osewe and Athmani had a case to answer and put them on their defence.

However, the DPP appealed the decision to acquit the six arguing that the magistrate failed to consider the overwhelming evidence which proved they all participated in grabbing the land.

State prosecutor Fredrick Ashimosi, argued that the magistrate made a mistake in acquitting the accused on grounds that there was no prove the 9,394 acres belonged to Miwani Sugar Company when it was clear from evidence that the title was registered the company’s name.

Ashimosi submitted that the magistrate failed to consider the gravity of the offence and that all the eight accused had a role to play in grabbing the land.

“The magistrate erred in law in finding that we had not established a prima facie case on the illegal acquisition and disposal of public property. The evidence is sufficient that any court will agree with our case,” said Ashimosi.

He added that it was wrong for the magistrate to find there was no forgery of registration documents when several witnesses had confirmed to the court that the titles relied on by the accused persons were forged from the land’s office.

The prosecution said they could not understand how the magistrate arrived at a finding that the 9,394 acres was not public land when it is in public domain that the land was gazetted in 1989 as public property and reserved for growing sugarcane.

Ashimosi accused the magistrate of contradicting himself by ruling that two of the suspects had a case to answer for irregularly issuing a clearance certificate to transfer the property while at the same time saying there was no irregularity in transferring the land.

Lady Justice Ngugi agreed with the submissions, ruling that it was impossible to find only that only the two had a case to answer when they jointly participated.

She, however, declined to allocate the file to a new magistrate, ruling that it will delay the case as the new magistrate would want to start the hearing afresh.