Top officials charged in fraud scandal

Kenya’s attorney general recently signalled his willingness to tackle the country’s biggest corruption scandal by charging five men, including the former governor of the central bank, with fraud.

The “Goldenberg” scandal was made public 14 years ago and cost Kenyan taxpayers the equivalent of $700-million, but no one has been found guilty and no politician has faced charges.

The scandal involved the payment of massive cash subsidies for fictitious exports of gold and diamonds by a firm called Goldenberg International. “If you look at the list what you see is civil servants taking the fall,” said Mwalimu Mati, executive director of the anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International.
“Politicians, as in all other corruption scandals, are left untouched. These people had a role to play but they surely can’t have been the only ones involved. There were people involved in facilitating the money coming out of the treasury, and people involved in the political cover-up.”

Of the five men indicted, three have faced charges before: the former deputy governor of the central bank, Eliphaz Riungu, the former treasury permanent secretary, Wilfred Karunga Koinange, and Kamlesh Pattni, who was a director of Goldenberg International.

Their cases never came to a full trial and proceedings were halted after the president, Mwai Kibaki, came to power in December 2002. Kibaki set up an inquiry that reported last month. The inquiry said former president Daniel arap Moi must have been aware of the scam and urged the attorney general to consider pressing charges against George Saitoti, a former finance minister.

Saitoti, an education minister in the new government, resigned from the Cabinet last month, but denies involvement.

The two new names on the list are Eric Kotut, the central bank governor under Moi, and James Kanyotu, a former intelligence chief who was a director of the firm.

At a time when Kenya faces a severe drought, the scandal is a reminder of the sleaze and economic stagnation of the Moi years. The former president denies involvement.

The hardship suffered by herdsmen in Kenya’s arid north is partly blamed on neglect and the failure of successive governments to build roads or help develop the region.

The charges over Goldenberg, a scandal which epitomised the corruption of the Moi government, come at a time when the new government is reeling from its own corruption scandal. Kibaki’s finance minister and justice minister resigned after being named in connection with the Anglo Leasing scandal, in which millions of pounds were looted from the treasury in dodgy contracts for police and military equipment.

The International Monetary Fund has reportedly postponed a decision on loans to Kenya because of worries about corruption.—Â

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