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State officials in panic as US bans former AG Wako

By Standard Team | Nov 20th 2019 | 6 min read
Busia Senator Amos Wako.

Panic has gripped senior government officials and politicians in the Moi, Kibaki and the current Handshake regime after the United States banned Busia Senator Amos Wako, his wife and son from travelling to the country over alleged corruption.

Announcing the ban on Monday, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said Mr Wako (pictured) had been “publicly designated due to his involvement in significant corruption”.

The ban did not disclose specifics on the matter.

“Section 7031(c) provides that, in cases where the Secretary of State has credible information that officials of foreign governments have been involved in significant corruption, those individuals and their immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the US,” the statement read in part.

This was the second time Wako was being blacklisted by US, the first being in 2009 when then-Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson described him as an obstacle to the fight against graft.

Yesterday, the top political leaders – President Uhuru Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga – declined to comment on the ban, even as it emerged that the move and anticipated sanctions against other leaders may shake the political landscape.

Who is next?

However, sources told The Standard that the ban had sent shockwaves among the kleptocratic clique that has controlled the country’s politics, economy and public service since the 1990s.

Some former powerful ministers and public servants, businesspeople, Cabinet secretaries, governors and MPs were yesterday frantically trying to reach out to the US embassy, State House, Mr Odinga, the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission and the European Union (EU) to find out their fate, sources said.

Most of them have been implicated in corruption, money laundering, drug trafficking and allied malpractice in the past. A senior diplomat from the EU who could not be named for protocol reasons told The Standard that they had been inundated with calls on who else was on the list, and whether the EU was considering the same action.

Several political leaders and public servants have invested or hidden proceeds of their illegally acquired wealth in the US and Europe, and such sanctions pose existential threats to their illicit empires and careers.

Wako could not be reached for comment as his phone went unanswered and he did not respond to text messages. However, a close associate said the former Attorney General would address the media today at Parliament Buildings. It is expected that the Big Three will comment after Wako publicly makes his case.

State House Spokesperson Kanze Dena-Mararo said they had not received any further information from the US.

“I can’t know about this. Please talk to the US embassy,” she said

Dr Ruto’s deputy director for communications Emmanuel Talam said, “we have no idea. Please contact the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the US embassy for additional information.”

Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau directed the questions to the US embassy.

“Please pose your questions to the US Mission,” he said.

In Parliament, MPs demanded that the action be extended to all corrupt government officials for the fight against corruption to succeed. The lawmakers said it was unfair to single out Wako for corruption claims in the Governments of retired President Daniel Moi and Mwai Kibaki. Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Junior described the ban as ambiguous,  saying past bans by the US against drug traffickers had not yielded any results.

He said if the US was serious with the fight against graft, they should have forwarded specific case for subsequent investigations.

“The ban is ambiguous in so far as Kenya is concerned. It cannot lead to anything meaningful unless they have a specific case which they have forwarded for investigations. Previous bans on drug lords and corruption barons in the past have not resulted in anything meaningful,” said the Senator.

A second term Senator who served in the Cabinet with Wako in Kibaki’s administration said it was unfair for the US government to ban Wako alongside his wife Flora Ngaira and son Julius Wako, persons he argued were wrongly targeted. The senator who sought anonymity because of his relationship with Wako said Julius is an adult who has been practising independently as a lawyer.

“Why would you punish his wife who has been sick for close to 40 years? It is also unfair to the son who has been doing his things independent of his father,” said the senator.

Senators Enock Wambua (Kitui), Fred Outa (Kisumu), Ben Momanyi (Borabu), Timothy Wanyonyi (Westlands) and Godfrey Osotsi (Nominated) claimed Wako was being punished for collective decisions by the Moi and Kibaki administrations.

But National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee Chairman Opiyo Wandayi (Ugunja) said the fight against graft should be supported by all so long as it is lawful.

“It is within US mandate to choose what to do the credible evidence they have. However, they should extend such measures to many other people who I believe are involved even in much more significant corruption. Corruption is a big threat to this country’s stability and any lawful efforts aimed at tackling it must be supported,” said Wandayi.

Senator Outa wondered why other senior people in government who had been banned from the US have not blacklisted again.

Case of profiling

“This is the profiling of an individual. There are a number of politicians and public servants who were banned sometimes back. Picking only one person again is clear profiling. We will remind US to name those others and for what reasons,” said Outa.

Senator Wambua questioned how a travel ban to the US helps in the fight against corruption in Kenya.

“The US authorities owe it to Kenyans to say what this “significant corruption” is and how naming and banishing Sen Wako and his family from the US takes forward the war on corruption,” said Wambua.

Momanyi said the US government should provide evidence before taking such a serious step. The Amani National Congress (ANC) nominated MP Osotsi charged that whereas the US government has a right to bar any person from entering its territory on grounds of fighting corruption, it likely to raise questions of selective justice.

“What about many other known corrupt and influential individuals in Moi and Kibaki regime? Wako cannot singly carry the burden of corruption in KANU regime,” said Osotsi.

It is not the first time the US is issuing ban orders against individuals accused of corruption or engaging in drug trafficking. Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) chairman Eliud Webukala said they contributed to the move by the US action against Wako, warning that more bans were coming.

“We have been collaborating with the US and other foreign missions working on this. Expect more bans soon,” he said.

 Wako was involved in the transition that saw Narc form the Government after Kanu lost the 2002 election. He oversaw the drafting of the new Constitution after draft constitution popularly known as Wako Draft was rejected.

During his two decades in office, critics claimed Wako, who was admitted to the bar in 1970, often failed to prosecute senior government officials accused of committing graft, an accusation he has strongly denied.

His critics then accused him of submitting to political pressure that made him ineffective in prosecuting graft cases. However, he blamed the failures on weak court systems.

 Wako was Attorney General in 1991 and retired in 2011. He was elected Busia Senator in 2013. Before joining government, he was a partner at the prestigious Kaplan and Stratton law firm.

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