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Witnesses' unexplained wealth gave away bribery plot, Bensouda argues

NATIONAL
By Kamau Muthoni | May 5th 2021
Lawyer Paul Gicheru. [File, Standard]

Huge sums of money banked by two witnesses who were to testify against Deputy President William Ruto and radio journalist Joshua arap Sang shortly followed by their recanting of evidence gave credence to claims of witness tampering.

This is the spine of submissions filed by outgoing International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, urging The Hague-based court to confirm witness bribery charges against lawyer Paul Gicheru.

According to Bensouda, the lawyer and his associates were keen not to leave traces, but the money banked by the witnesses betrayed them. She claimed that the agreement between Gicheru and the 2007-2008 poll chaos witnesses was that they should not leave any money trail.

However, two of them banked the money given to them.

She argues that based on the wealth status of the victims, the timing, their banking history, and the sudden huge amount of money they banked could not add up. She notes that the money could however not be traced back to Gicheru.

“The evidence reveals that Gicheru and his associates were careful not to leave any financial trail of the bribes paid to the prosecution witnesses. Nevertheless, despite instructions from Gicheru to the contrary, two of the corrupted witnesses deposited the proceeds of the bribe payments into their bank accounts,” Bensouda argued. The office of the prosecutor filed a 170-page document as evidence against Gicheru.

“While these were cash deposits that cannot be directly linked to Gicheru, they are clearly large deposits that are not commensurate with the means and status of the witnesses concerned, nor their prior banking history. These deposited amounts, therefore, corroborate their evidence as to the fact, timing, and amount of bribes allegedly paid to them by Gicheru.”

Bensouda says that a large and well-oiled syndicate drove the bribery plot and they either gave promises to victims, paid actual bribes and those who did not comply were either threatened or intimidated.

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“The modus operandi of Gicheru and his associates was to identify, locate and contact prosecution witnesses in the Ruto and Sang case. Once contacted, prosecution witnesses were corruptly influenced, either through promises of large payments or threats of harm—or a combination of the two,” she claims adding that the lawyer was at the heart of the scheme and was able to get more than eight witnesses.

“Gicheru bears particular responsibility for all of this, given the central and essential role he played in the commission of the offences including as a direct perpetrator.

According to Bensouda, there are phone records of Gicheru’s associates talking to witnesses and some victims who were roped in to influence others telling them to recant the evidence.

The prosecutor argues that she has testimonies from five witnesses who directly implicated Gicheru.

Investigators then engaged another gear, she says, they started listening in conversations and recording them and taking photos of persons who attended meetings, went after bank records.

At the same time, Bensouda alleges that Gicheru stopped short of admitting that he influenced P-0397.

Bensouda points out that the prosecution does not allege that Gicheru and his associates were the only persons engaged in witness interference.  

In his response, Gicheru accuses Bensouda of bringing up flawed, fallacious arguments. He terms the case as an alluring house of cards.

“Irrespective of whether the assertions claimed by the OTP have a whiff of plausibility – as the shine of fool’s gold would to the unsophisticated and unwary, considering that much of the evidence is untestable hearsay,” Gicheru’s lawyer Michael Karnvas argues.

According to the lawyer, Bensouda’s argument that his team composed of Silas Simatwo, Elisha Busienei, and Isaac Maiyo, J.N. Njuguna, Arap Mitei, Gregory Mutai, another unidentified Njuguna, and someone by the name of Kogo, alleged to have been Gicheru’s bodyguard is a figment of imagination, as she never attempted to contact them.

 “The OTP cherry-picks the evidence, artfully ignoring inconsistencies, improbabilities and presenting it out of context and devoid of relevant evidence,” he replies.  

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