The UK’s anti-corruption agency plans to return to Kenya some Sh52 million seized from the British printing firm convicted of paying out hefty bribes, codenamed ‘chicken’, to Kenyan electoral and examination officials.
The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) reckons that Kenyan taxpayers – who bore the brunt of inflated tenders that were then paid in bribes – are entitled to receive the £349,057.39 (Sh52 million) that Smith & Ouzman paid Kenyan officials to win lucrative tenders at the Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) and the Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec).
“The SFO, with the support and agreement of HM Treasury, Department for International Development (DFID) and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, is keen to ensure that funds equivalent to the bribes paid in this case are made available to the people of Kenya,” said an SFO spokesman.
“We are exploring appropriate mechanisms to facilitate this,” SFO said in an interview with the Business Daily.
The renewed efforts by the UK to bring its citizens to book by attaching the assets of Smith & Ouzman and paying compensation to Nairobi once again puts to shame Kenyan authorities who are yet to nail any of the suspects who feasted on ‘chicken’ and have not asked the UK for reparations.
The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) had not responded to our queries in the matter at the time of going to press.
Kenya last year set up the Asset Recovery Agency (ARA), headed by deputy solicitor- general Muthoni Kimani, which is the body tasked with freezing assets deemed to be proceeds of financial crime such as money laundering and bribery.
It does not help that the Criminal Assets Recovery Fund (CARF), which will receive recovered public assets from both EACC and ARA, is yet to be operationalised.
The ARA and CARF are established by the Proceeds of Crime and Anti-Money Laundering Act (2009), which criminalised money laundering activities and provides mechanisms for freezing, seizing and confiscating proceeds of crime.
The Sh52 million ‘‘Chickengate’’ reparation comes after London’s Southwark Crown Court on January 8, 2016 seized the assets of Smith & Ouzman and ordered the British printer to pay a total of £2.39 million (Sh351 million) in fines and penalties for bribing Kenyan public officials.
DFID – Britain’s international development agency – is expected to put the funds into a legacy project in areas such as education, water and health that will benefit the Kenyan people.
The Sh52 million ‘‘Chickengate’’ reparation fund is enough to sponsor about 165 needy but bright students with a four-year high school bursary.
It is also enough to pay maternity fees for more than 10,000 women at Kenya’s public hospitals under President Uhuru Kenyatta’s free maternity programme.
Smith & Ouzman was hit with a penalty nearly seven times the £349,057.39 bribes dubbed “chicken” it paid top officials at the IIEC – the predecessor to IEBC – and Knec.
Court papers show that the bribes were paid through Trevy James Oyombra, the S&O Kenyan agent, who would in turn discreetly deliver the ‘‘chicken’’ to IIEC and Knec officials.
Judge Daniel Pearce-Higgins had in February last year sentenced Nicholas Smith to three years in jail while his father, 72-year- old Christopher Smith, was handed a suspended jail term of 18 months and 250 hours of community service.
The UK’s Bribery Act (2010) outlaws use of bribes by both persons and corporations to influence decisions, win or retain business abroad.
SFO a fortnight ago handed over to EACC the ‘‘Chickengate’’ files – the materials used to jail the officials and seize the assets of Smith & Ouzman.
A cloud of doubt, however, remains over the EACC’s commitment to pursue the Kenyan suspects in the case given the slow pace at which investigations have moved since the UK prosecutors opened their case against British suspects.
Top on the list of those adversely named in the SFO’s ‘‘Chickengate’’ files are Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Issack Hassan, former Energy secretary Davis Chirchir (who is a former commissioner at IIEC) and former Knec boss Paul Wasanga.
Other members of the ‘chicken gang’ include former Judiciary registrar Gladys Boss Shollei (ex-deputy CEO at IIEC), former IEBC CEO James Oswago, lawyer Kennedy Nyaundi (ex-commissioner), Kenneth Karani (senior procurement officer), an unnamed finance director, and former Electoral Commission of Kenya commissioner Joseph Khamis Dena.
EACC is yet to complete investigations and charge any of the top officials named in the scandal.
SFO detectives retrieved damning e-mail exchanges between S&O Ltd and Kenyan electoral officials, shipping invoices and local purchase orders (LPOs) used by the procuring entities, to put a solid case of corruption.
For example, Kenyan electoral officials inflated the price of each of the 14.51 million referendum ballot papers ordered in 2010 at the rate of Sh0.75 per ballot paper, translating to kickbacks totalling £105,193.82 (Sh14.8 million).
An unnamed Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) officer is said to have received Sh2.92 million in kickbacks to certify S&O Ltd printing works as having met the required quality standards, documents filed in a London court show.
Court papers show that the Kebs official was paid ‘chicken’ at the rate of Sh0.20 per ballot paper following S&O’s successful bid to print ballot papers for the 2010 Constitution referendum.