Kenya’s finance minister will be arrested and charged over corruption related to the construction of two dams, the chief prosecutor said on Monday, an unprecedented event for a sitting minister in a country notorious for graft.
The charges against Henry Rotich stem 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 also denied any wrongdoing.
Rotich and his co-accused face eight charges, ranging from conspiring to defraud and financial misconduct, said Noordin Haji, the director of public prosecutions.
The minister and other officials will immediately have to resign and will be arrested and taken to court, he said.
Kenyan prosecutors have requested help from British and Italian authorities, he said, and more charges could result.
The minister will be charged alongside 27 other senior officials, 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 far more.
“The national treasury negotiated a commercial facility increasing the amount to approximately 63 billion shillings – which is 17 billion more than necessary or required, payable on a timely basis without regard to performance or works,” he said.
The indictment of Rotich will send shockwaves through the political elite, who are accustomed to lurid graft scandals resulting in little official action.
Rotich’s arrest may also be seen as further evidence of growing distance between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto.
Rotich was appointed at Ruto’s request. Ruto has made clear that he expects to receive the ruling coalition’s nomination for the presidency in 2022, despite objections from some in Kenyatta’s camp.
Kenyatta will have served two terms and be ineligible to run again.
Earlier this year, Rotich’s questioning by police provoked an angry reaction among politicians from Ruto and Rotich’s powerful Kalenjin ethnic group.
Their home area saw some of the worst violence after the disputed 2007 elections, in which 1,200 people died.
“You are arresting many people because you want to destroy William Ruto’s people,” lawmaker Oscar Sudi told local media in March. “Us, as Rift Valley leaders, are tired of nonsense.”
But Haji closed his press conference with a pointed warning against politicians using the case to score points.
“Corruption always fights back,” he said. “There may be elements who may seek to exploit these indictments to instigate social unrest.”
The government would be watching, he said, and would respond robustly. ($1 = 103.2000 Kenyan shillings).