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Former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko, wife, daughters banned from travelling to US

Former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko. [Courtesy of Reuters]

Former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko has been banned from setting foot in the United States of America.

Also barred from entering the US are Sonko’s wife Primrose Mbuvi, daughters Saumu Mbuvi and Salma Mbuvi. A child in the Sonko’s family was also placed on the list.

The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed the Immigration documents stopping the five from getting visas to the US, citing alleged corruption during Sonko’s reign as the Governor of Nairobi County.

The US said it had obtained “credible information” that the ex-Nairobi County boss was involved in graft, including bribery, irregular awarding of tenders, and undermining the rule of law.

The State Department in Washington, however, did not reveal the amounts of money that Sonko allegedly obtained through graft.

“Corruption erodes public trust in government,” said the US in a statement released on Tuesday afternoon.

“The U.S. Department of State is designating former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko Gidion Mbuvi Kioko due to his involvement in significant corruption.  While in office, Governor Sonko solicited bribes and kickbacks in exchange for awarding government contracts to his associates,” the State Department said on its official website.

“His actions undermined the rule of law and the public’s faith in Kenya’s democratic institutions and public processes.

“The Department of State is also announcing the designation of the following members of Sonko’s immediate family: his wife Primrose Mwelu Nyamu Mbuvi; their daughters Saumu Agnes Mbuvi and Salma Wanjiru Mbuvi; and Sonko’s minor child.

“These designations reaffirm the commitment of the United States to combatting corruption and supporting the rule of law while strengthening democratic institutions in Kenya. We will continue to use all available tools to promote accountability for corrupt actors in this region and globally.”

On whether the US had shared the same information with Kenya’s intelligence and relevant authorities, the State Department said: “We don’t discuss matters about our diplomatic relations publicly.”

The State agency said it relied on “thorough investigations” to arrive at the decision to ban Sonko and his immediate family from the US.

On whether they gave Sonko a right of reply following findings from their independent probe, the US said: “No, we did not. The investigations were conducted based on his tenure at the helm of county governance.”

The US termed the decision to ban Sonko from the country as “a pure Immigration decision, nothing else”.

Asked to reveal whether other Kenyan leaders linked to graft are also under US investigations, the State Department said: “Yes, but we won’t reveal much details.”

The Counsellor for Diplomacy at the US Embassy in Nairobi, Eric Watnik, said he “doesn’t know” whether Mike Sonko has any assets or business interests in the US.

On whether the former governor can appeal against the decision, Watnik said: “He’ll have to contact lawyers in the US to explore the legal avenues for his appeal. There must be a provision that allows one to challenge such a decision.”

The US cited Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act to ban Sonko and his family from entering the country.

“Congress provides that officials of foreign governments and their immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the United States when the Secretary of State has credible information that the foreign official has been involved, directly or indirectly, with significant corruption and/or a gross violation of human rights,” says the law.

The Standard has reached Mike Sonko for comment.

The former governor has never been convicted of a corruption-related offence in Kenya. The Senate, in December 2020, impeached him on several grounds, including abuse of office.

Sonko has vowed to file an appeal at the Supreme Court against the High Court and Court of Appeal decisions that found his impeachment as justifiable.

Editor’s Note: This graft report is based on the statement by the US Department of State, and not independent investigations conducted by The Standard, linking Sonko to involvement in graft.