Oparanya in a fix over Sh1.3 billion graft probe

"Commission conducted a successful search on various targets as part of an ongoing investigation into allegations of embezzlement of public funds amounting to over Sh1.3 billion from Kakamega County during the reign of former Governor, Wycliffe Oparanya, and where it was found that public funds were unlawfully acquired through proxies and associates," said the agency.

After hours at the Integrity Centre in Nairobi, the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition leader emerged from the EACC's revolving doors at about 6.30pm.

The former governor, however, said his presence at the EACC was a follow-up on his mobile phone, which EACC had allegedly taken.

He said investigators questioned him about his relationship with Azimio leader Raila Odinga, if he possessed guns and some county documents.

But Azimio protested his treatment, threatening to walk out of talks with the Kenya Kwanza.

The leaders, who went to the EACC offices in solidarity, accused President William Ruto's Government of using the agency to harass its principals.

"If this happens and I am one of the principals of Azimio then obviously it will affect the talks because even Raila was calling everybody out there," said Oparanya.

Jubilee Party Secretary General Jeremiah Kioni said the government was blowing hot and cold. He termed the EACC's move a stab in the back, adding that it had eroded the goodwill to engage in talks with the government.

"How do you dialogue when people are being harassed?" said Kioni, who leads Azimio's technical committee on the bipartisan talks.

Narc-Kenya Party Leader Martha Karua accused President Ruto's administration of driving the country back to a dictatorial regime.

"This is not a character of people who follow the law. Let them not play a cat and mouse game," she said.

Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna called the EACC's probe a political witch hunt and plot by Ruto to intimidate those opposed to his leadership, especially in the Western region.

EACC officers raid former Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya's home at Emabole in Butere on August 23, 2023. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

"If you want to get the support of Western people, talk to them. Don't try to get the support of Western people by arresting their leaders" said the Senator.

National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi, who termed the conduct of denying them access to the EACC premises as unbecoming, accused the commission's chair David Oginde of subverting the law.

Earlier in the day, the commission's officers searched Oparanya's two homes at Emabole in Butere and Likuyani.

They arrived minutes past 9am and stayed for close to three hours, ransacking the houses.

The officers were armed with a search warrant obtained at the Milimani Law Courts.

An inquiry file indicated that the officers were investigating allegations of procurement irregularities and conflict of interest in the award of tenders to companies associated with county officials in the financial years 2013-2014 and 2021-2022.

Oparanya served as governor from 2013 to 2022.

According to EACC, preliminary investigation revealed that part of the alleged funds were transferred into bank accounts of contractors and later withdrawn.

But Oparanya's lawyer, Kennedy Echesa, accused EACC of violating the procedure to conduct a search.

"I received a call from my client, Mr Oparanya, directing me to rush to his home saying police officers had raided his home and required me to be present. However, they locked me out only to hand me a search warrant from the court after they were done," he said.

EACC Director of Communication Eric Ngumbi said several other leaders from Kakamega and other counties in Western could soon be arrested in connection with plundering of public resources, among other issues.

"We could not arrest all of them at once but several others will soon be arrested and investigated," he said.

But Azimio leaders from Western accused the government of intimidation. Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi claimed that Oparanya was being targeted in a calculated move to kill the coalition in the region.

"Let them arrest him and many other Oparanyas will emerge to continue spreading Azimio gospel," said the lawmaker.

According to him, the arrest was suspect as it comes barely a week before President Ruto's planned tour of Western.

"Why didn't they arrest him earlier? How come they are doing it around the same time the president is expected to tour our region? It is same thing they attempted to do to me when Ruto was scheduled to tour Vihiga a couple of weeks ago," he said.

Osotsi wondered why the government was intimidating leaders when President Ruto had promised not to weaponise the fight against corruption. "Dragging leaders to EACC is not good at all," he said.