Kenya's finance minister snared in dam probe.

Author:Collins, Tom

Kenya was rocked when finance minister Henry Rotich and several other high-ranking government officials were arrested last month and charged with abuse of office and conspiracy to defraud. Tom Collins reports

Kenya's finance minister, Henry Rotich, along with the permanent secretary of the finance ministry, Kamau Thugge, were among 28 officials who spent a night in police custody in late July before pleading not guilty to 24 charges of abuse of office, conspiracy to defraud and engaging in a project without planning.

They were arrested on charges relating to a contract with Italian construction firm CMC Di Ravenna to build two dams in the country's western Elgeyo-Marakwet county.

Leading the investigation, the director of public prosecutions, Noordin Haji, accused the individuals of fraudulently inflating the cost of the two dams.

"If the projects were carried out in adherence to the law and existing policies for safeguarding the public interest, then it should not have cost $608m," he says. "We have evidence to prove that $155m was lost through a well-choreographed scheme to defraud public funds."

Prosecutors say that $106m issued in advance payments was shared out between conspirators and their agents. They also allege that work on the two dams has not yet started, a claim which the the Italian firm, one of whose directors is facing extradition to Kenya, denies.

The ongoing investigation is a major step in the country's fight against corruption, says John Githongo, who acted as the permanent secretary for governance and ethics during former President Mwai Kibaki's first term in office.

"The ministry of finance and office of the president have traditionally been the fulcrum of graft in Kenya, so for the minister and permanent secretary of finance to both be arrested while in office is a first," he told African Business in Nairobi. "Others have been charged before but only after they...

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