Police free Venezuelan IEBC personnel who'd been detained at JKIA

IEBC said the foreigner was in the country legally. [File, Standard]

Police have released a Venezuelan national contracted by the IEBC after establishing that the election-related stickers he had at the JKIA on Thursday were genuine material belonging to the electoral agency.

The foreigner had been arrested after police suspected him of impropriety upon landing at the JKIA with IEBC material declared as “personal luggage”.

Police now say they’ve established that the foreigner was in constant communication with the IEBC, and that the material was lawfully assigned to him.

Authorities said they had detained him while investigating why the election-related stickers that he had hadn’t been declared as per the law.

Police said they were also seeking to find out why the stickers were not accompanied by an IEBC official as per routine procedure.

Citing the sensitivity of elections material, police further stated that they ought to have been notified of the importation of election-related material beforehand to “provide necessary security and escort”.

Police Spokesperson Bruno Shioso said upon completion of investigations, they released the Venezuelan national, who had been contracted by the IEBC to roll out technology during the August 9, 2022 General Election.

“Subsequent investigations have revealed that the stickers were bona fide property of the IEBC and part of the election-related material. Based on that finding, the suspect has been released from lawful custody and the stickers released to IEBC,” Shioso said in a press statement on Friday, July 22.

The IEBC had on Thursday night alleged that three of its personnel had been arrested upon landing at the JKIA from Venezuela.

The arrests came hours after the IEBC earlier Thursday denied allegations that some election material had been confiscated at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) during shipment into the country outside a schedule known by the Government of Kenya.

“Information circulating that government security agencies at JKIA have detained ballot papers allegedly imported to the country outside the indicated schedule of election materials is fake. The correct position is that today morning (Thursday, July 21) the commission received stickers to aid labeling and distribution of election materials. The JKIA security agencies in their normal procedure were trying to validate the stickers with the commission,” the electoral agency said on Twitter.

Several hours later, however, the commission said it was disappointed about the arrests of the IEBC personnel, who they termed key in the management of the August 9, 2022 General Election’s technological network.

“It is with extreme consternation that the commission has learnt of the arrest of three key personnel responsible for deployment and management of election technology infrastructure. The three personnel, who are employees of Smartmatic International BV, were arrested upon arrival at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport from Venezuela,” Chebukati said in his Thursday night statement.

“This is despite the Commission’s Secretary/CEO [Marjan Hussein] explaining to the security authorities that the three personnel were in the country to execute a lawful contract relating to the deployment of technology in elections.

“The commission has a valid legal contract executed between itself and Smartmatic International BV for the supply, delivery, installation, testing, commissioning, support and maintenance of the Kenya Integrated Election Management System (KIEMS).”

The IEBC chairperson accused unnamed persons of intimidating the commission.

“The brazen decision of the security authorities to arrest, detain and confine in a solitary hideout the three personnel without justification, is an exhibition of intimidation on hardworking persons who are only keen to deliver a robust technology infrastructure for conduct of a credible, secure and verifiable election,” said Chebukati.

The IEBC boss said the contractees’ arrests could jeopardise preparations of the upcoming polls.

“The commission wishes to inform the public that the arrest and continued holding of the personnel has the inevitable effect of hampering the deployment of technology in the forthcoming general election. Technology plays a central role in elections and the commission wonders what the intention behind the holding of the technical personnel is meant to achieve.”

Chebukati added: “The commission demands the immediate release of the three employees of Smartmatic International BV.”