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Ex-military officer sentenced to life imprisonment for deserting duty

COUNTIES
By Willis Oketch | September 27th 2014

A former military officer was sentenced to life by a martial court for deserting duty.

The military jury sitting at Mtongwe Naval Base found Lt Jeffery Okurih Pepela guilty of absconding duty during active service on October 23, 2007. 

Pepala was the officer in charge of Kenya Navy’s Maritime Surveillance Radar Station (Mansura) based in Malindi and the court martial judges felt that his decision to leave without someone competent to man the station put the country at risk.

Yesterday, the former military officer was escorted to Shimo La Tewa Maximum Prison where other 26 former soldiers facing similar charges are also being held under closed arrest.

Before the judgment, Pepela was being held under open arrest at the Mtongwe Naval Base where he could mingle with other officers in the mess. The military also restored his uniform and rank allowing him freedom, even though he was not eligible for monthly wages.

Yesterday, the former officer was stripped of all privileges and was dressed in civilian clothes that he wore during the arrest before being bundled into a military Land Rover.

Action unacceptable

The last time a military officer was sentenced to life by the court was during the trial of the 1982 abortive coup ringleaders.

Judge Advocate Joyce Gandani ruled that the jury had found Pepala’s action unacceptable,  because he did not leave anyone in charge of the station when he left.

“The accused is found guilty of deserting his duty while in active service. He was the one in charge of Mansura and left without anybody taking charge of the station,” said Gandani. The former military officer’s lawyer, Ben Musundi, has already applied for certified court proceedings to appeal against the sentence.

“Your honour, I wish to apply for certified proceedings to enable me appeal the sentence against my client,” he said.

Pepela was among more than 400 soldiers who left KDF five years ago for greener pastures in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan after they secured employment by US security firms.

He joined a security firm called Black Water Security, owned by Erik Prince, a former US Navy Seal. The arrest of the ex-military officers who worked in the firm is said to have also strained the relationship between Kenya and some government officials in the US.

During cross examination, Pepela said he resigned but never cleared with the Department of Defense and the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence as stipulated by the KDF Act.

Foreman

He told the court that he left the military in 2007 after lawful resignation, but the military insisted that he deserted duty.

Reports indicate that he underwent a four-month training in the US before he was deployed to Iraq where he worked for two years as a foreman of  convoys escorting and transporting US military supplies.

He returned to Kenya and later landed another job in Afghanistan where he worked for two years before coming back to the country to join Brinks Security firm as a branch manager.

On March 14 this year, Pepela was arrested after he sought to get clearance at the  Mtongwe base for the red navy book that would have enabled him secure another job.

The court martial was presided over by Gandani, Lt Col J S Kisuwa, Lt Col G W Ndiga, Maj S L Kisamu, Capt F K Barmao and Lt Col J K Koech. The prosecution was led by Capt Alice Mate.

In May, Senior Assistant Director of Public Prosecution Alex Muteti told a Court of Appeal in Malindi that about 800 soldiers have deserted KDF over the last five years.

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