Sat, Sep 15, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Kenya's anti-corruption unit has its powers cut

OFF THE HOOK Offenses committed before the establishment of the organization are no longer subject to investigation, according to a new law

THE GUARDIAN , NAIROBI

Politicians and businessmen who stole billions of dollars during the Daniel Arap Moi era in Kenya have effectively been given an amnesty after the national anti-corruption body was stripped of its power to investigate old cases.

The Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) will no longer be able to investigate offenses committed before May 2003, when it was set up under a new law passed by parliament. Notorious scandals such as the Goldenberg and Anglo Leasing cases, which involved massive state-sponsored looting through bogus companies, can now only be pursued by the police. And the police consistently ranks as the most corrupt organization in Kenya.

The move comes two weeks after a leaked report by the international risk consultancy Kroll alleged that two of Moi's sons had accumulated wealth of nearly US$2 billion during their father's reign. Much of it was stashed in foreign countries.

Civil society organizations yesterday described the new law as "the formal end of the war on graft", while Aaron Ringera, the head of the KACC, called it "one of the darkest moments in the fight against corruption"

"This makes a mockery of the judicial system," Ringera said. "All our long investigations must now be stopped."

The KACC was established soon after President Mwai Kibaki took power in late 2002. With an annual budget of more than US$14 million, it was given the task of fulfilling Kibaki's pledge of ending high-level corruption and reclaiming stolen loot. It commissioned Kroll to trace the missing money, and collected evidence on the Goldenberg case, which involved a gold and diamond export scam, as well as the large-scale theft of public land by officials.

But from 2005, when Kibaki's government was revealed to have continued the looting by awarding huge state contracts to bogus companies in the so-called Anglo Leasing scandal, it became clear that KACC faced an uphill struggle due to political interference and a lack of bite. Ringera's own commitment to tackle corruption was called into question. The Kroll report, delivered in April 2004 and containing details of bank accounts, companies and properties in the names of Moi's inner circle, was never acted upon.

Earlier this year three members of Kibaki's cabinet, who resigned after allegedly putting pressure on anti-corruption officials to drop their investigations, were reappointed to their jobs. Efforts by KACC to force ministers suspected of corruption to declare the source of their wealth were blocked. To date not a single member of parliament or prominent businessman has faced prosecution.

"All these guys who looted must be celebrating now," said Maina Kiai, chairman of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. "This shows what a farce the whole war on corruption is."

Moi himself had attempted to push through an amnesty for corruption in 2001, but was defeated in parliament.

This time around members of parliament, including some under investigation by the KACC, not only effectively pardoned all economic crimes since independence, but also blocked an attempt by the anti-corruption body to acquire wider powers to speed up investigations.

The move is likely to anger the international community, which pours tens of millions of US dollars of aid into Kenya each year. Britain, the biggest bilateral donor, is likely to be particularly aggrieved.

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