Wed, Feb 11, 2004 - Page 6 News List

In corruption push, Kenya trying judges on bribery charges

THE GUARDIAN , NAIROBI

An appeal court judge in Kenya accused of having links with suspected drug traffickers appeared before a special tribunal yesterday, the first of a series of trials aimed at tackling corruption in the judiciary.

Philip Waki is one of eight of the country's most senior judges accused of taking bribes.

President Mwai Kibaki's government was elected in December 2002 on a platform of zero tolerance for sleaze, and this purge of the courts is seen as crucial to its campaign to clean up public life.

Under the former president, Daniel arap Moi, the judiciary was regarded with cynicism by Kenyans, who joked that it was "cheaper to buy a judge than hire a lawyer."

Gladwell Otieno of Transparency International, a global anti-corruption organization, said: "The new government found itself being stymied in their fight against corruption by the judiciary. Prosecution is one of the more difficult ways of fighting corruption, but it's what the public wants to see. I think the government has made a political decision to go and do one-off radical surgery."

Waki, who was appointed to the high court in 1995 and became an appeal court judge last year, denies the charges and has vowed to prove his innocence.

The outcome of this first tribunal is expected to influence whether the trials of the other seven judges will go ahead, and there are fears that the judiciary may close ranks.

Otieno said: "Kenya is a small country, and they definitely all know each other. These are colleagues trying each other."

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