WikiLeaks Releases: Nairobi Cable No. 35: Ringera Gave Up on Prosecutions Against Corruption

Viewing cable 08NAIROBI1373, KENYA CORRUPTION UPDATE – LOOKING BACK, LOOKING FORWARD

  • Kenya’s most egregious thieves given a new lease on life
  • George Saitoti, Kiraitu Murungi, Musalia Mudavadi, Fred Gumo, William Ruto, Sally Kosgei, Henry Kosgey , Kipkalya Kones and John Haroun Mwau named as corrupt, tainted and unfit for Office
  • According to a weary Ringera, Kenya’s court system stymies justice vs. delivering it.

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 NAIROBI 001373

SIPDIS
DEPT FOR AF/E, AF/EPS, EB/IFD/OMA
USAID FOR AFR/DP WADE WARREN, AFR/EA CARRIE THOMPSON AND
JULIA ESCALONA
MCC FOR MALIK CHAKA
LONDON AND PARIS FOR AFRICA WATCHERS
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/29/2028
TAGS: KCOR PREL ECON EFIN KE
SUBJECT: KENYA CORRUPTION UPDATE – LOOKING BACK, LOOKING FORWARD
NAIROBI 00001373  001.4 OF 004

Classified By: Ambassador Michael E. Ranneberger for reasons 1.4 (B) and (D).

Former Anti-corruption boss gave up on prosecuting top thieves in government

¶1.  (C) Summary: The bad news on the corruption front in Kenya is that the new coalition government has given some of the country’s most egregious thieves a new lease on life and strengthened their already strong sense of impunity.  Meanwhile, Kenya’s legal system continues to stymie vs. deliver justice in cases of corruption.  The good news is that while historical cases of grand-scale corruption still fester unresolved, greater political and institutional accountability in Kenya are making it far more difficult to steal large sums of public resources now vs. five years ago.  Two recent cases, one involving the recovery of a downtown hotel by the Central Bank, indicate the new coalition government may be trying to recover stolen assets in exchange for offering amnesty to well-financed perpetrators of corruption.  This could be yet another form of corruption, but if done transparently, a program of “restitution and closure” offers a practical way to resolve those historical cases of grand corruption that will likely forever elude successful prosecution. End summary.

The New Cabinet – A Rogue’s Gallery
¶2.  (C) Somewhat lost in the dramatic political developments of the past several months is the fact that Kenya remains plagued by corruption, with government often driven more by callow self-interest and the need to dole out patronage than by the desperate need on the part of Kenyan taxpayers for improved public service delivery — or any service delivery at all.  This fact was driven home when the new, bloated Grand Coalition cabinet was named by President Mwai Kibaki in April.  Cabinet low-lights include:

— George Saitoti (Internal Security): A central figure in the infamous Goldenberg scandal of the early 1990s when he was Minister of Finance.

— Kiraitu Murungi (Energy): Participated in or at least tried to cover up the Anglo-Leasing procurement scandals in the first Kibaki administration.

— Musalia Mudavadi (Deputy PM and Local Government): Implicated in the Goldenberg scandal after succeeding Saitoti as Minister of Finance in the mid-1990s.

— Fred Gumo (Regional Development Authorities): Enjoys a reputation as a thug; also alleged to have illegally acquired and sold GOK property worth $10 million.

— William Ruto (Agriculture): Has two pending court cases alleging the illegal acquisition and sale of land owned by government parastatals.

— Sally Kosgei (Education): Also has cases pending in court concerning the sale of land owned by the Kenya Railways Corporation when she was the head of civil service under the Moi regime.

— Henry Kosgey (Industrialization): Believed to have defrauded and stolen large sums of money from a number of parastatals, including the Kenya National Assurance Company, during the Moi years.

— Kipkalya Kones (Roads): Widely believed to have demanded huge kickbacks from road contractors, contributing to the dilapidation of Kenya’s road system under the Moi Administration.

— John Haroun Mwau (Transport): A mere assistant minister, but the list wouldn’t be complete without him. Is widely believed to have amassed a huge fortune from trafficking drugs and other contraband through his Mombasa-based freight forwarding company, Pepe Ltd, which he used to help win his seat in Parliament.  He is also believed to stand behind Charterhouse Bank, which was put under statutory management last year when credible evidence emerged that it was little more than a massive money laundering and tax evasion operation.

The Grand Regency: Double Scandal or Victory?
¶3.  (SBU) The first big potential scandal to hit the press after the electoral crisis concerned the disposition of downtown Nairobi’s Grand Regency Hotel.  The case is classic smoke, mirrors, and murk, but the essential facts are that Kamlesh Pattni, the central figure in the Goldenberg scandal, borrowed KSh 2.5 billion (around $40 million at the time) to build the hotel in 1993.  Pattni never repaid the loan, and when the lending bank later went belly up, the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) put the hotel under receivership in an attempt to recover the loan.  But the CBK never achieved operational control over the hotel during the following 15 years of protracted legal battles waged by Pattni to maintain control over the hotel and its revenues.

¶4.  (SBU) It thus came as a surprise to Kenyans when on April 9, KACC and Pattni jointly announced that the latter would cede all interests and control over the hotel and transfer title to the CBK as security against the original unpaid loan.  The KACC hailed the deal as “a landmark in its assets recovery efforts.”  The hotel had been valued at KSh 2.1 billion in 1997 and is believed to be worth over KSh 7 billion today.  The KACC said that Pattni did not receive commitments from the government to drop outstanding criminal investigations in exchange for ceding the hotel.  Pattni, a recently born-again Christian now nicknamed “Brother Paul,” commented to the press: “For what does it benefit a man to gain the world and then lose his soul… I can build ten more hotels like this with the wisdom from God.”

¶5.  (SBU) It all looked too good to be true, and sure enough, allegations of scandal hit the press before the KACC could open the champagne to celebrate its victory.  Two allegations emerged: First, that Pattni himself was paid off by someone in the government to give up control of the hotel.  The second more damning allegation came from a group of private sector watch-dog lawyers, who claimed to have evidence that the hotel had already been secretly sold to a Libyan concern for a throw-away price of KSh 1.6 billion.  Given the warming state of relations between Libya and the Kibaki administration in recent years (including persistent rumors that Libya contributed large sums to Kibaki’s re-election campaign), the charge had a certain narrative logic.

¶6.  (SBU) True or not, the allegations of a second scandal involving the hotel had beneficial results.  Both the KACC and the CBK quickly issued statements providing the facts of the case.  The CBK pledged it would dispose of the hotel at the earliest opportunity and that the sale would be conducted in accordance with the law.  Finance Minister Amos Kimunya followed up by publicly denying the Libyan connection and stating that the hotel would shortly be sold in a transparent legal manner to the highest bidder to maximize taxpayer payback.  That said, we have also heard from hotel sources that Pattni cronies continue to control day-to-day management of the hotel and are draining it for cash and using it for favors.  Parliament has announced its intention to more fully investigate the case

¶7.  (C) Mission comment: As is so often the case, it’s hard to know what really happened here.  Pattni’s about-face seems too good to be true, so we suspect there was an attempt at some point during the process on the part of someone to illegally profit from the deal. The Libyan connection is speculative, but can’t be discounted either. But in any event, thanks to alert watchdogs and the press, whatever conspiracy might have been unfolding appears to have been exposed and nipped in the bud.

Kingpin Kamani Comes Home
¶8.  (C) Suspicions that Pattni had made a deal to escape future prosecution for his crimes were further fueled in mid-May, when the press extensively reported on the return to Kenya of Deepak Kamani. Second only to Pattni in terms of infamy for having fleeced Kenyans over the years (together with GOK officials), Kamani was the private sector mastermind behind several of the 18 security-related procurement scams that spanned both the Moi and Kibaki administrations and collectively became known as the Anglo-Leasing cases.  The term “Anglo-Leasing,” in fact, comes from the name of a company that received substantial payments from the Kenyan government without delivering any goods or services in 2003-04.  Much of the money was returned after the scandals were exposed in mid-2004.  Upon investigation, Anglo-Leasing turned out to be a paper company without a physical presence registered in the UK in the name of Kamani’s relatives.

¶9.  (SBU) Kamani left the country under a cloud of suspicion in 2006 and was made ineligible for a U.S. visa in May 2006 under Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).  At that time, the KACC was offering a KSh 100,000 reward for anyone who assisted in Kamani’s arrest.  Eyebrows were thus raised when Kamani appeared in Nairobi in mid-May and volunteered himself for two days of questioning at KACC.  He had earlier been removed from Kenya’s most-wanted list and he now appears to enjoy freedom of movement within the country.

¶10.  (SBU) Without much evidence, the local press reported almost as fact what everyone else suspected: That Kamani was working an amnesty deal under an amendment to Kenya’s Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act passed late last year.  The idea, as some believe was the case in Pattni’s surrender of the Regency, would be to return some ill-gotten gains in exchange for amnesty from all future investigation and prosecution.  In response to the predictable outcries that this represented yet another example of cash-fueled impunity, KACC remained tight-lipped, denying in a public statement that Kamani had been offered amnesty and saying only that he and one of his brothers are still under investigation for their role in the Anglo-Leasing scams.

¶11.  (C) Mission comment: It’s too early to say if the Pattni and Kamani cases represent a new departure under which the new coalition government is willing to move beyond historical graft cases like Goldenberg and Anglo-Leasing by providing some form of amnesty in exchange for a return of at least some of the money stolen by perpetrators of corruption.  In principle — although it rankles the ordinary Kenyan — plea bargaining, or some system of “restitution and closure,” is probably not a bad way to proceed go given that prosecution of such cases is virtually impossible in the Kenyan context (more on this below).  Kenya’s Attorney General has spoken publicly about the need for plea bargaining in the Kenyan legal system as a tool for more efficiently resolving cases and reducing the huge backlog in the justice system.  (Note: The U.S. Mission has supported the GOK’s development of plea bargaining and witness protection programs as part of anti-corruption efforts.  End note). KACC Director Ringera told Econ/C in late April that as a practical matter, it’s better to get at least some money back from wrongdoers and to move on than it is to spend years and considerable resources trying to pursue pure justice through almost always futile prosecutions.

¶12.  (C) Mission comment, continued: This situation bears watching. If the Pattni and Kamani cases are indeed evidence that the GOK is moving to plea bargaining or restitution and closure as a way to close past cases of grand scale corruption, then it is going about it the wrong way.  For the process to be credible and sustainable, it would need to be far more transparent, organized along the lines of a truth commission.  But KACC’s discussions with both Pattni and Kamani remain well-kept secrets.  The public thus remains justifiably suspicious that what is happening now is just more corruption, as money changes hands in exchange for immunity.

¶13.  (C) Mission comment, continued: John Githongo, Kenya’s famous first (and only) Permanent Secretary for Ethics and Governance in the first Kibaki administration, proposed a transparent restitution and closure program to Kibaki’s Cabinet before he left the country in 2005 in self-imposed exile, fearing for his life after exposing the Anglo-Leasing scams.  The proposal was shot down and the Kibaki administration later nearly broke into pieces on the shoals of that scandal.  Githongo’s brother told Econ/C in mid-May that John Githongo had offered to join a Raila Odinga government had Odinga become president after the elections in late December.  His sole condition was to be given free rein to implement just such a transparent program of restitution and closure.  Odinga is back in government as Prime Minister, but his commitment to such a program is not known.  Moreover, there are credible indications that Odinga has close ties and receives support from some of the very corruption kingpins that would oppose an open system of restitution.

Speaking of John Githongo…
¶14.  (SBU) Githongo is planning to return to Kenya shortly, perhaps as early as June, according to his brother.  Githongo was named in March as the Director of Policy and Advocacy at World Vision, and will be visiting Kenya in this guise.  His brother says Githongo is moving on, and does not plan to speak about or release any new revelations about corruption in Kenya.  He believes he’s done as much as he can on that front, and wants to “repackage” himself and speak to the more global issues he now follows closely at World Vision, such as the plight of poor children and other vulnerable groups in developing countries.

Ringera: Prosecutions?  Impossible!
¶15.  (C) Econ/C got an earful from KACC Director Ringera in late April.  Kenya’s court system stymies justice vs. delivering it, according to a relaxed but weary Ringera.  He said that KACC during his tenure had forwarded eight cases against then-current Cabinet ministers to the Attorney General for prosecution.  None were pursued by the AG, who cited different, often feeble, excuses each time for refusing to take action.  Ringera is also being blocked from obtaining evidence overseas in the Anglo-Leasing cases by the lawyers of Anura Perera, the other private sector mastermind, along with Kamani, of the Anglo-Leasing deals.  (Note: Perera is also ineligible for a U.S. visa under Section 212(f) of the INA.  End note). Realizing that they can’t block mutual legal assistance actions in European courts, Perera’s phalanx of lawyers have taken KACC to Kenyan courts twice and won injunctions barring KACC from cooperating with foreign counterparts such as the UK’s Serious Fraud Office. Ringera said the latter is believed to have damning evidence against Perera, but he is barred from receiving it by the court order. Ringera has appealed against this apparent travesty of justice, but sighed and said he’ll be out of office by the time the appeal is ever heard.

¶16.  (C) On a roll, Ringera said he is also hobbled by the outright hostility towards pursuing corruption cases on the part of the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP), led by Keriako Tobiko.  This may be as much about turf and institutional rivalries as anything else (KACC officers are far better paid and resourced than DPP prosecutors for starters), but the net result for Ringera is an utterly dysfunctional justice system.  He has essentially given up on the idea of prosecutions and favors “restitution and closure” as a way to resolve outstanding cases of grand-scale corruption.  Ringera says he will not seek to renew his contract when his five-year term ends later this year.

Yes, There is Good News
¶17.  (C) The good news in Ringera’s view is that although the current coalition arrangement will strengthen impunity in historical cases of grand scale corruption cases (many of the perpetrators are in Cabinet), there are likely to be far fewer new such cases going forward.  Ringera cited the investigative prowess of KACC itself as one factor in discouraging corruption, along with improved procurement processes in government. (Note: USAID and the Millenium Challenge Corporation Threshold Program are providing ongoing support to procurement reform in Kenya.  End note).  Another factor, reflected in conventional wisdom, is that the current structure of the coalition government will discourage any attempts to pilfer large sums of public resources.  The logic: That both camps within the coalition will quickly blow the whistle on the other if corruption occurs, creating an informal form of prevention and accountability that might be absent in a more unified government.

¶18.  (C) Mission comment: We agree with Ringera that the opportunities and incentives to engage in grand-scale corruption are much diminished in 2008 vs. five years ago, and that this is a significant improvement on the broader governance front.  Indeed, since the Anglo-Leasing revelations of 2004-06, we’ve neither seen nor heard of any major cases of grand-scale corruption other than the recent allegationssurrounding the Regency sale.  In the context of a coalition government and a pretty vigilant civil society and press, it’s simply too hard to keep a secret these days.  Unfortunately, by utterly failing to prosecute or otherwise satisfactorily resolve past cases of mega-corruption like Goldenberg and Anglo-Leasing, and by tolerating the petty corruption that Kenyans and businesses still face daily in most encounters with GOK officials, Kenya still manages to retain its reputation for corruption.

Ranneberger

2 comments

  • Gladys Nyokabi

    President Kibaki chairs a past cabinet meeting at State House, Nairobi. By PETER LEFTIE >US ambassador Michael Ranneberger said he believed that nine individuals named to the Cabinet by President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga were Kenya’s most egregious thieves and accused the two principals of handing them a new lease of life.

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    Terming the Cabinet named in April 2008 as “a rogue’s gallery,” the US envoy told his superiors in Washington that the two principals had given the ministers a sense of impunity.

    “Somewhat lost in the dramatic political developments of the past several months is the fact that Kenya remains plagued by corruption, with government often driven more by callow self-interest and the need to dole out patronage than by the desperate need on the part of Kenyan taxpayers for improved public service delivery — or any service delivery at all,” Mr Ranneberger wrote in June 2008.

    Five of the nine ministers named by the envoy and who we cannot name because we could not reach them to respond to the specific allegations hail from the Rift Valley Province, two from Eastern Province, one from Western Province and the other one with links to Western, Rift Valley and Nairobi provinces.

    Mr Ranneberger linked two of the Cabinet ministers to the multi-billion shilling Goldenberg scandal and another to the equally monumental Anglo Leasing infamy.

    Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi, however, dismissed the claims saying the Goldenberg Inquiry chaired by judge Samuel Bosire had exonerated him from any wrongdoing in the scandal and even hailed his efforts to stop the scandal.

    “Why does he not say that I was cleared by the commission chaired by Justice Bosire if he is genuine in his views?” Mr Mudavadi asked.

    Mr Ranneberger wrote that the third minister “participated in or at least tried to cover up the Anglo-Leasing procurement scandals in the first Kibaki administration.”

    The envoy described the fourth minister, from the ODM wing of the coalition as enjoying “a reputation as a thug also alleged to have illegally acquired and sold GoK (Government of Kenya) property worth $10 million (Sh800 million).

    Suspended Higher Education minister William Ruto was said to be facing two pending court cases relating to illegal acquisition and sale of properties belonging to State corporations.

    But in a sharp rejoinder, Mr Ruto also dismissed the claims. “Who is Ranneberger? Investigator, prosecutor and judge?” he questioned.

    Mr Ranneberger claimed that yet another minister from the same province used immense influence in the Moi government to grab and sell land belonging to a State corporation. There are two cases pending in court.

    The ambassador said the seventh minister was “believed to have defrauded and stolen large sums of money from a number of parastatals during the Moi years.”

    He accused the late Kipkalia Kones, who had been named Roads minister two months earlier, as being “widely believed to have demanded huge kickbacks from road contractors, contributing to the dilapidation of Kenya’s road system under the Moi administration.”

    On the ninth minister who hails from Eastern Province, the envoy said: “A mere assistant minister, but the list wouldn’t be complete without him, he is widely believed to have amassed a huge fortune which he used to

  • “The thing that messed us up was bad politics and corruption. Look at where the Asian Tigers are? It is difficult to imagine at one point in history, we stood toe-to-toe with them,” he says.

    As the economy went south so did government services, in particular, the health sector. “Inasmuch as access to basic health care is a human right, as a country we simply cannot afford to provide it to everyone.”

    Dr Yusuf Kodwavwala Dawood – Nairobi Hospital

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