Kenyan finance minister arrested on graft charges

Kenyan Finance Minister Henry Rotich was arrested on Monday on suspicion of financial misconduct related to the construction of two dams, unprecedented detention of a sitting minister for corruption in a country notorious for graft.

Charges against Rotich, announced on Monday, stemming from a police investigation into the misuse of funds in a dam project overseen by the Italian construction company CMC Di Ravenna.

Rotich denied any wrongdoing in a large newspaper advertisement in March. The company has previously denied any wrongdoing.

Rotich and his co-accused face eight charges, ranging from conspiring to defraud and financial misconduct, Noordin Haji, the director of public prosecutions, said. The minister and other officials will have to resign immediately, he said.

Rotich was arrested shortly after the charges were announced, George Kinoti, the head of the Police Directorate of Criminal Investigations, told Reuters in a text message. Suspects must be produced in court within 24 hours of an arrest.

The minister will be charged along with 27 other people, including Italian Paolo Porcelli, the director of CMC di Ravenna; and Rotich’s number two at the ministry, Kamau Thugge, the principal secretary.

“They broke the law on public finance management under the guise of carrying out legitimate commercial transactions, colossal amounts were unjustifiably and illegally paid out through a well-choreographed scheme by government officers in collusion with private individuals and institutions,” Haji told a news conference.

The two dams were budgeted to cost 46 billion shillings ($446 million), he said, but the treasury borrowed 63 billion instead, needlessly ratcheting up Kenya’s ballooning public debt, which stands at around 55% of GDP.

“This kind of crime and irresponsibility enslaves us with unnecessary debt and mortgages our future generations,” Haji said.

Kenyan prosecutors have requested help from British and Italian authorities, Haji said, and more charges could result.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s office declined to comment on Rotich’s replacement.

CMC di Ravenna told Reuters in March that it had received slightly more than $75 million in advance payments for the two dams, planned in western Kenya. At that time, the company disputed a statement by the Kenyan police that little work had been done, saying it was nearly a third finished.

Reuters