By Kenya Confidential Anti-Corruption Awareness Editor, Nairobi – April 28, 2019
The Government of Kenya has written to at least seven countries seeking details on billions of shillings suspected to be stashed abroad by influential individuals, including prominent politicians and businessmen.
In a decisive step that marks renewed efforts after previous failed attempts to recover money hidden abroad, top officials have said there will soon be nowhere to hide for those who have attempted to avoid scrutiny of local bank accounts by hiding money in foreign countries, some of which have a dubious reputation as safe havens for ill-gotten wealth.
Institutions fighting graft revealed that the Attorney-General has written to at least seven countries seeking information about bank accounts and assets in the names of Kenyan citizens, which are suspected to have been proceeds of corruption. The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations are involved in the process and are cross-checking details they hold about prominent individuals.
The institutions are prying through an audit report by UK’s Kroll Associates, which was commissioned by former President Mwai Kibaki early in his tenure but was suppressed and remains unpublished to date despite the efforts and resources that went into the work. Almost two decades since the audit report was leaked by Wikileaks in 2010, some of the funds stashed away found their way back to be invested in real estate and aviation industry.
The audit listed Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Canada, Finland, Germany, Grand Cayman, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jersey, Liechtenstein, Liberia, Luxembourg, Malawi, Namibia, the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, Russia, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Switzerland, the UAE, Uganda, the United Kingdom, the United States and Zaire as some of the countries the stolen wealth was stashed by Kenyans.
The EACC deputy CEO Michael Mubea acknowledged requests had been made to a number of countries for co-operation in the investigations, but declined to provide further details for fear of complications in diplomatic and bilateral relationships.
“We have made certain requests to certain countries and we are hoping for the best,” is all Mubea would say.
Other sources speaking anonymously expressed shock at what the preliminary interactions with some countries where monies are stashed had revealed. Millions upon millions of cash banked by politicians and business people, some of them dead, have been building foreign economies with Kenya tottering on bankruptcy.
“We are on the right path and we have gained access to accounts that we have never even heard of in the past. Some of the countries we have reached out to have never featured in our radar, ever,” the source said, pointing to the great lengths the corrupt are going to hide their loot.
It is the work of the Multi-Agency Taskforce that includes EACC, the National Treasury, the Kenya Revenue Authority, the Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI). Some politicians, including the Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkommen, have expressed concern over the DCI involvement without revealing the basis of their fears.
Attorney-General Paul Kihara, who is directly involved in the matter as chair of the multi-agency team, is understandably tight-lipped – more from his background as High Court judge whose background demands facts before disclosures and judgments.
Some of the foreign jurisdictions believed the government has approached include Dubai that has lately become attractive to Kenyans who want to hide their wealth, United Kingdom, Mauritius and Switzerland. Notorious designer of Goldenberg International infamy Kamlesh Pattni has established himself in Dubai from where he plunders African government including South Africa as he did to Kenya. Jimi Wanjigi also has his business headquarters in Dubai.
Already, a number of assets that belong to Kenyans have been traced to the UK, especially in London. Dubai is the other places, source with links to the Multi-Agency Taskforce, revealed. A treasure trove of information that the taskforce should also be combing with a magnifying glass is The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) Panama Papers disclosing global havens where world politicians, presidents, kings, queens and businesses hide money.
In recent years, Australia and Japan have also emerged as destinations the corrupt are hiding their loot. This emerged after the money trail led investigators to Australia as they investigated Migori Governor Okoth Obado. Investigators allege that the governor and his children travelled to Australia carrying Ksh 4.5 million, part of which EACC discovered could have been laundered at a casino in Australia.
Kenya has this year signed agreements with United Kingdom and Switzerland, the Framework for the Return of Assets from Corruption and Crime in Kenya, whose ultimate aim is to have a structured way of engaging in helping with the recovery of ill-acquired wealth stashed in their territories. Jersey is also expected to sign the deal.
Jersey has over the last 8 years been waiting for Kenya to extradite two Kenyans former Finance Minister Chris Okemo and former Managing Director of Kenya Power and Lighting Company Samuel Gichuru to face corruption charges involving over a billion shillings looted from the parastatal. Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji is battling with corrupt Kenya’s judiciary that has hampered extradition after seemingly being compromised. Gichuru is not new in those schemes.
“The countries we have signed pacts with have agreed to co-operate with us in doing the investigations,” Ms Muthoni Kimani, who heads the Asset Recovery Agency, disclosed.
An amnesty period issued by National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich that ended in July saw no one come forward to declare that they have foreign bank accounts. A new report by National Bureau of Economic Research, a US-based think-tank, showing that Ksh 5 trillion is held in offshore accounts by corrupt Kenyans.
The amnesty was applicable to those who have unknown business and bank accounts abroad. Most of the requests concern ongoing corruption cases and investigations, including the National Youth Service (NYS), Kenya Power, Kenya Pipeline and county governments among others.
In August, Ms Kimani told a committee of Parliament that the multi-agency team established by President Kenyatta in 2015 to enhance the fight against corruption had established banks are the weakest link in the war on Corruption.
As critical as they are in financial dealings, the team had concluded that there is need to change the law to compel the banking institutions to report suspicious financial transactions in real time as opposed to the seven days provided for by the law. The fear is that within that time, money would have been withdrawn or transferred, including to jurisdictions outside Kenya.
Ms Kimani told the justice committee of the Senate, “Seven days is too long a time to pursue suspicious bank transactions. There is need for the law to be amended specifically to shorten the period to real time. And we hope the banks will support this.”
Kimani acknowledged that banks are an integral part of the war on corruption, where they are helping the team in gathering intelligence, but expressed concern that they have been placed at the tail end of the process and warned that this is dangerous. They are the first call of those hiding corruption proceeds and should raise alarm promptly and not later than 24 hours given electronic banking.
“They have guided us well on intelligence gathering but we must put them ahead of the process not at the end of it so that we get information as early as possible,” she said.
Mubea says the team’s interest is not to register success by taking people to court but by raising awareness and disrupting corruption before it happens and eventually recovering what has been stolen.
“We are going for the stolen money to ensure it is recovered,” he said.
Many attempts to trace and recover proceeds of crime stashed overseas by Kenya citizens have hardly yielded any results. When funds are recovered a substantial chunk should be allocated to the multi-agency body to enable it recover more.
Although critics of he renewed fight against corruption claim it has moved slower than Kenyans expect, DPP Haji has to date paraded many senior government officials, previously considered as untouchable to in courts on corruption charges.
Among those charged with corruption and abuse of office are former Sports cabinet secretary Hassan Wario, former principal secretaries Lillian Omollo, Richard Ekai and Richard Lesiyampe, present and former Kenya Power bosses Ken Tarus and Ben Chumo among others, top managers of National Cereals and Produce Board, Kenya Railways boss Atanas Maina, and chairman of the National Land Commission Mohammed Swazuri among others.
However, all said and done, the government should involve Kenya Citizens as its foot soldiers in the War on Corruption. No war is won without foot soldiers and the citizens are the biggest asset. They are also the major victims of corruption. Citizens should also volunteer information on corruption deals that come across.