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Elaborate plans to arrest corrupt police officers yield nothing

Nyeri, Kenya: Over the years, corruption has become so rampant on Kenyan roads that ordinary wananchi equate the sight of traffic police officers stopping vehicles on the highways to bribery.

Although Kenyan motorists know that bribery is an economic crime subject to prosecution in a court of law, they have perpetually fattened the pockets of rogue cops through unwarranted bribery.

In September 2010, the cries of wananchi – that corrupt traffic police officers were endangering the lives of Kenyans – reached the defunct Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) offices.

Consequently, an elaborate plan to bust corrupt traffic officers was orchestrated – and the proverbial D-Day set for September 30. Set to be nabbed in the act on that day were traffic police officers manning Mathore on the Nakuru-Nairobi highway.

But arresting the corrupt officers would not be a walk in the park – it required co-operation between the KACC agents and motorists plying the route.

Also, the KACC officers would have to use specially treated Sh50 notes, the currency that was the most common bribe among matatu drivers stopped at any police roadblock. The treated notes would form crucial evidence in court. The serial numbers of the treated money were entered into an inventory.

And a deal was sealed between the KACC agents and a number of matatu operators that would see the traffic officers – who had converted Kenyan highways into a cash cow - learn the lesson of a lifetime.

At the Mathore roadblock, it was business as usual, with four traffic police officers stopping public service vehicles and undertaking dubious checks – before extorting money from the motorists.

By noon, the officers had made a Sh18,100 (tax free) which is more money than a lower level civil servant takes home after paying tax. At this point, the KACC officers swung into action.

The officers were busted in the act and arrested. At the scene, there was glaring evidence of bribery in the form of money stashed in a polythene bag in a vehicle belonging to one of the officers. The arrested officers were identified later as police constables David Gatitu, David Kipchirchir, James Wahome and Gladys Chepkemoi.

They were subsequently charged before the Nyeri Chief Magistrate on five separate counts of corruption. But the officers, through lawyer Wahome Gikonyo, managed to convince the magistrate that they were ‘unblemished’ and were consequently released.

The then Nyeri Senior Resident Magistrate, Evans Makori, in his judgement delivered on July 13, 2012, explained why he acquitted the officers.

Among the flops Makori cited in the prosecution’s case was the failure of the KACC agents to secure the crime scene as they chased after the suspected traffic officers. “The presence of too much public and busy bodies who were not invited to the spectacle ... spoiled an otherwise juicy operation.”

In addition, the prosecution did not invite even a single “friendly” motorist – who reportedly bribed the police with the treated money – to testify in court.

 “The drivers who gave the monies ought to have testified. What kind of offences were they forbearing from suing?” asked Makori.

 He, however, advised the anti-graft agency to continue such daring operations to fight corruption and bring all corrupt individuals to book.