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The big cases frozen by Covid 19-pandemic

By Kamau Muthoni | July 24th 2020

Widow of the late Dutch tycoon Bob Cohen, Sarah Wairimu Cohen at Milimani law courts after the court gave orders allowing her to access her matrimonial home and collect her personal effects including clothes and shoes. Her case is one of the major cases held back by Covid-19 restrictions.[George Njunge, Standard]

It has been one year since the murder of businessman Tob Cohen. His widow, Sarah Wairimu, is fighting to clear her name after she was accused of having a hand in his death.

A long-standing rift in the relationship between Wairimu and Cohen’s siblings, Gabrielle and Bernard, was evident in a memorial placed in a daily newspaper on Monday where they failed to recognise her as their brother’s widow.

The acrimony stems from the mystery of how Cohen died and ended up inside a water tank in his compound, as well as the contents of his will that are the subject of a separate dispute before the Family Court.

Wairimu filed a case laying claim to the property she says she co-owned with her husband.

The last time the matter came up for mention was on March 12, with the hearing slated to start 11 days ago, on July 13.

There is also the matter of a murder case against the widow and her co-accused Peter Karanja, which has been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The disease has brought the wheels of justice grinding to a halt. Hundreds of cases are pending as magistrates and judges try to figure out the best way to safely dispense justice and keep all the parties from contracting the virus.

A June report from the Health Ministry to the Judiciary warned its officers to steer clear of the courts and avoid interacting with the public to avoid the risk of cross-infection.

Embrace technology

The ministry has, instead, recommended that magistrates and judges should embrace modern technology to dispense justice.

Although some matters are being heard, albeit, at a snail’s pace, the majority of the cases involving public figures have been shelved.

Some of the cases derailed by the coronavirus disease include the trial of four governors and former senior government officials, among them Cabinet and principal secretaries, managing directors, and heads of parastatals.

Migori Governor Okoth Obado’s trial in which he is accused of the murder of Rongo University student Sharon Otieno and her unborn baby is one of the cases affected.

Obado, who is charged together with Caspal Obiero and Michael Oyamo, was waiting to fight the allegations levelled against him before the virus struck.

His lawyer, Cliff Ombeta, said they will have to pick a new hearing date.

The trial of Joseph Irungu alias Jowie and former Citizen TV reporter Jacque Maribe for the murder of businesswoman Monica Kimani was also hit by the virus.

Jowie and Maribe denied killing 28-year-old Kimani on September 19, 2018. They were charged one month later on October 15.

The last activity in the case was in February this year when Justice James Wakiaga freed Jowie on a Sh2 million cash bail or an alternative Sh3 million bond.

The judge noted that the State had not produced compelling reasons why the court ought to continue detaining the suspect.

Jowie was ordered to report to the chief once a month. He was also asked to surrender his travel documents.

The strict bail terms further restricted him from commenting on the case on social media or contacting witnesses.

Governors whose cases are in limbo include Nairobi’s Mike Sonko, Sospeter Ojaamong (Busia) and Moses Lenolkulal (Samburu).

Former Kiambu boss Ferdinand Waititu is also waiting for his day in court to defend himself on charges of awarding a tender irregularly.

In some cases, the large numbers of accused persons and their lawyers make it challenging to have them all in open court. The two major trials are those involving former Kenya Power bosses Ben Chumo and Ken Tarus, and the loss of Sh230 million from the National Youth Service (NYS).

Chumo and Tarus are charged alongside nine others with the alleged procurement of faulty transformers worth Sh310 million. Tarus has also been charged alongside 33 directors and companies for the loss of Sh160 million that had been paid for labour and transport contracts.

The NYS scandal revolves around 37 accused persons. The trial involves former Youth and Gender PS Lillian Mbogo-Omollo, former NYS Director-General Richard Ndubai, his former assistant Nicholas Ahere, former director Sammy Mbugua, former Finance Director Wellington Lubira and several other employees.

Also charged are the Naivasha-based Ngirita family — Wambere Ngirita, Gichini Ngirita, Wambui Ngirita, Njeri Ngirita and Lucy Ngirita — who allegedly received millions of shillings through their companies without delivering anything to NYS.

The accused are facing 82 charges ranging from conspiracy to commit an economic crime, abuse of office, failure to comply with procurement rules, neglect of official duty, making fraudulent payments, breach of trust, false accounting and uttering documents.

Former National Land Commission chairman Muhammad Swazuri, former Kenya Railways boss Atanas Maina and former Kenya Pipeline Company Managing Director Joe Sang also have pending cases.

Former Treasury CS Henry Rotich and former PS Kamau Thugge are also awaiting trial alongside 26 government officials in the Sh63 billion Kimwarer and Arror dams scandal. Their charges include abuse of office and conspiracy to defraud.

Civil cases have also been affected, especially those being heard by more than one judge.

A case filed by Tatu Kamau seeking to legalise female genital mutilation is on hold.

The matter is before justices Lydiah Achode, Margaret Muigai and Kanyi Kimondi, but the Judiciary has not made arrangements to accommodate a multiple-bench hearing.

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