By Silas Ombati for the Standard 22nd Jan 2020
Deputy President William Ruto takes a photo with Archbishop Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit of Anglican Church of Kenya during a meeting at Harambee House Annex, Nairobi.
The police have reopened investigations into an old case involving Deputy President William Ruto and the controversial sale of land to a State corporation.
Dr Ruto was acquitted in 2011 of fraud charges following the 2001 sale of land to Kenya Pipeline Corporation (KPC) that the State contested was hived off Ngong Forest.
The Standard has established that the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) has opened fresh investigation into claims of conspiracy to defraud in the Sh272 million land deal.
Detectives, in particular, are interested in the money trail that would establish the recipients of the funds.
SEE ALSO: Of women, leadership and corruption
Ruto and two co-accused were cleared for lack of evidence as the court ruled the prosecution failed to demonstrate that the accused ever received money from KPC.
Among those who have been summoned and questioned in the new probe are directors of companies that were involved in the sale of the land, and lawyers who handled the transactions.
On Monday, a director of a firm associated with the DP – Priority Ltd – was questioned at DCI headquarters in Nairobi. Paul Chirchir visited the offices accompanied by his lawyer, Katwa Kigen, in the afternoon.
The Standard learnt that Mr Chirchir partially recorded a statement before asking for more time to consult his lawyers on the way forward.
Mr Kigen confirmed he accompanied Chirchir to DCI offices for the grilling. He said in principal they have reservations about the reopening of a case that had already been concluded in court.
“It is true that officers from DCI, particularly Chief Inspector Patrick Maloba, asked for my clients and we turned up with a director, Mr Paul Chirchir, on Monday,” Kigen said.
He disclosed that the officer explained that they are reviewing the case, No 973 of 2004, that was investigated and prosecuted by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), and ended with an acquittal in 2011.
“He wants to know who signed the sale agreements and who was paid for the sale. All these were on trial in the case prosecuted by the CID from 2004 to 2011. The DCI couldn’t say the motive for the unorthodox, and in my view vain, attempt to re-open the case,” Kigen said.
Ruto was in April 2011 acquitted of Sh43 million land fraud charges for lack of evidence. His co-accused, Joshua Kulei and Sammy Mwaita, were also let off.
They had been charged with fraudulently obtaining Sh272 million from KPC by selling it plots in the Ngong Forest.
Mr Kulei had been charged with stealing Sh58 million, while Mr Mwaita was accused of abuse of office.
In his ruling, Nairobi Chief Magistrate Gilbert Mutembei said the prosecution had failed to prove that the three received the money from KPC.
“The contention of selling land without being procedurally excised from Ngong Forest was the basis of drafting the charges. The letter to hive off the forest land was signed by the then Forestry minister and 33 parcels of land allocated to various companies, and the consent to hive off part of the forest were obtained from the Commissioner of Lands,” Mr Mutembei said.
“The prosecution failed to produce in court the then Finance Manager Hellen Njue to give her evidence on how she paid out the money. It is, therefore, clear that none of the accused ever received any money from KPC. The prosecution has failed to prove its case, thus all the accused persons have no case to answer.”
A former land surveyor at the Ministry of Lands who handled the matter and identified only as Wayumba was in December grilled by the police in relation to the controversy.
He told investigators that he only executed his professional duty after being given the requisite documents.
Cross the bridge
A source who asked not to be named because they are not authorised to speak to the media said a number of individuals had been lined up for grilling. When asked if the DP is among those targeted for questioning, the highly placed source replied they had not arrived at the decision.
“For now, not yet. But if and when need be, we will cross the bridge. We are now on those who handled the issue,” said the source.
A High Court judge is also listed among those likely to be questioned. His law firm carried out 32 land sale transactions on behalf of Transnational Bank. A total of Sh272,278,780 was paid in three instalments upon processing of the land titles by KPC advocates.
The cheques were drawn in the joint names of his firm and others. The final instalment was paid on September 5, 2001, directly to his company’s account after the corporation acknowledged receiving the titles.
The court heard that the money was being held in the law firm’s account at Transnational Bank at the time the prosecution claimed it was stolen.
Sources said the judge is key in the new probe and will shed light on the recipients of the proceeds. It is not clear what triggered the new probe into the sale.
Ruto was first charged in 2004 together with four others in the KPC case, but he never took a plea. The then Eldoret North MP was alleged to have received Sh96 million at intervals during the alleged transaction.
He moved to the High Court seeking the dismissal of the criminal case on the grounds that his rights were being violated.
The case stalled at the magistrate’s court until October 15, 2010, when the Constitutional Court rejected his plea and ordered that he face trial. Four days after the ruling, he was suspended from the Cabinet.
It also emerged that Ruto had in July 2009 appointed Ms Njue, a key witness in the case, to the board of trustees of the Coffee Development Fund.
At the time of the appointment, Ruto was facing a charge of fraudulently receiving money from Njue, acting on behalf of KPC, by pretending he could sell to the corporation 1.75 hectares of land in Ngong Forest. The offence is said to have been committed on September 6, 2001.
The land was meant to be bought for the KPC staff. Of the witnesses that the prosecution had lined up, 13 could not be found and five died while the case was ongoing.
Priority Ltd is caught up in another high-profile land dispute case. Last year, the firm declared in court that it is the bona-fide and legitimate registered owner of disputed land on which Weston Hotel in Nairobi stands.
While responding to a suit filed by the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority, the company said it has all the rights of a registered owner, statutory in equity and fact, and cannot be faulted through a petition filed.
“The third respondent (Priority Limited) asserts the Torrens common law doctrine. The register bearing our name as the registered owner, duly created, maintained, managed and controlled by the State, at the material times, serves as conclusive evidence of the ownership and indefeasibility of Priority Limited’s title as the proprietor and owners of all rights and interests on and over the land parcel,” said the company, through its lawyer Kigen.