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DPP 'sees the light', frees Father Fryda in Sh153m criminal case

 Dr Wiliam Charles Fryda at St Joseph Hospital in Gilgil, Nakuru county, on October 2, 2019. [File, Standard]

Some 25 years ago, a noble idea between a catholic priest and nuns sprung up after a team they had sent to a hospital in Tigoni, Kiambu county, ruled out a possibility of a takeover.

The Consolata sisters had implored their colleagues Assumption Sisters of Nairobi (ASN) to run Nazareth Hospital but the team that had been sent there felt that Kiambu people are rich, and therefore could not fulfill the nun's aim of treating the poor.

It is out of this that St Mary's Hospital came about.

From court proceedings, the priest who doubles as a doctor treated ASN sisters whenever they were sick. That was when the calling and God's love conjoined them at the hip.

However, years later, the heavenly call between American Priest William Charles Fryda, Sister Maria Felix Mwikali, and the Superior at Assumption Sisters Nairobi Group (ASN) as well as Sister Marie Therese Gacambi among others turned into earthly battles.

Although they all belong to the Catholic Church, the nuns managed to edge the priest out of St Mary's and went ahead to press criminal charges against him for over Sh153 million.

He faced five charges; conspiracy to commit a felony, money laundering, forgery, uttering a false document, and conspiracy to defraud.

The criminal claim was that on September 17, 2013, he allegedly forged papers to change the signatories of St Mary's hospital account at Prime Bank and between December 20, 2017, and January 2018 conspired to steal Sh153 million together with others, not before the court.

Witnesses in the case were the same sisters he had started St Mary's. Mwikali was witness number one.

  American Priest William Charles Fryda. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

She narrated that she joined ASN in 1997. She is the superior of the congregation. The court heard that the general council also elected Mwikali as a trustee.

According to Mwikali, the Sisters of Consolata approached them to take over Nazareth Hospital. It is at this time the sister said she met with Fryda who allegedly introduced himself as Maryknoll.

Maryknoll is a catholic society whose focus is overseas missions in East Asia, the US, Latin America, and Africa.

The sister testified that the priest requested to work with them at Nazareth, something which they agreed to after consulting the council and then the area bishop, the late Archbishop Ndingi Mwana Nzeki.

However, the Nazareth option died out.

"We had sent some Sisters to Nazareth Hospital to work there. The general council said Kiambu had many rich people and was aiming to reach the poor. Further negotiations with the Consolata Sisters were not profitable. So we told them we were not taking over even though we have gone far," said Mwikali.

She asserted that the father came looking for them. Nevertheless, the man was handy as he treated sick sisters, as St Mary's was starting.

Mwikali continued: "I can remember that father Fryda came to our house. We gave him a place to stay for three years so that he can prepare for the hospital project. He never paid anything but he took care of our sick sisters as a doctor. He helped us look for necessary things for the hospital."

From Mwikali's testimony, it appears that the split between the sister and the priest started after the priest allegedly wrote a manual called catholic mission hospital.

She said they felt betrayed by Fryda's claim that he was the founder of St Mary's. At the same time, she said the document had things that were unpleasant to their eyes.

"We thought we were betrayed by the statement on the founder of St Mary's Mission Hospital. He was not. The document has things we do not like," she said.

 Anti-riot police officers outside St Marys Mission Hospital on January 19, 2018. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Other witnesses were Sr Benedicta Kainda, Teresia Malinda, Jane Mungai and Angarai Ramaswang.

Malinda said she was a signatory to the account but did not know how the signatories were changed in 2011.

Meanwhile, his lawyer Esther Mwangi's account was frozen over the same amount. She was to be charged, however, the High Court found that investigators were maliciously dragging the advocate into the saga.

"An investigator must tread carefully when dealing with matters relating to the affairs between advocates and their clients, given the advocate-client confidentiality relationship. In this case, the investigator was aware that the petitioner had and was still representing Dr Fryda in court cases.

"Further, there was an explanation by Dr Fryda on the money he paid to the petitioner. The money was in respect of legal fees and costs," said Justice Anthony Mrima in his verdict handed last year.

However, the account remained frozen. The case was to proceed on Monday. Nevertheless, the American is now free.

His lawyer Ahmednassir Abdullahi, in his submissions after the Director of Public Prosecution Noordin Haji withdrew the charges against him and a driver Seth Maneri, said the DPP had finally seen the light.

He said "powerful forces" were exerting pressure to have the priest on the dock, accused of being a criminal.

"The case was in court because of certain powers to have the priest maliciously prosecuted. This is a sign that such cases should not come to court if driven by other forces," the senior counsel said.

For five years, six charges were hanged on the priest's shoulders. At the same time, a red alert had also been raised against him. The DPP said the battle was a civil one.

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