Kenya’s Finance Minister Henry Rotich and other treasury officials were arrested on Monday on corruption and fraud charges over a multi-million dollar project to build two mega dams, police said.
Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji had ordered the arrest and prosecution of Rotich and 27 other top officials on charges of fraud, abuse of office and financial misconduct in the latest scandal to rock graft-wracked Kenya.
Mr Rotich, his principal secretary and the chief executive of Kenya’s environmental authority then presented themselves to the police.
Mr Haji claimed the conception, procurement and payment processes for the dam project – part of a bid to improve water supply in the drought-prone country – was “riddled with irregularities”.
The arrests are part of a drive by President Uhuru Kenyatta to combat corruption in the poverty-plagued country, which has seen hundreds of millions of dollars disappear due to fraud.
A string of top officials have been charged since last year, when a damning report from the auditor general showed that the government could not account for $400 million (£321m) in public funds.
But it is unprecedented for a sitting minister to be arrested for corruption.
Detailing the charges, the chief prosecutor pointed to the awarding of the contract to Italian firm CMC di Ravenna in a manner that he said flouted proper procurement procedures, and despite financial woes that forced the company into liquidation and had led to it failing complete three other mega-dam projects.
According to the contract, the project was to cost a total of $450 million (£361m), but the treasury had increased this amount by $164 million “without regard to performance or works,” said Mr Haji.
Some $180 million has already been paid out, with little construction to show for it, while a further $6 million was supposedly spent on resettlement but without the acquisition of any land.
“Under the guise of carrying out legitimate commercial transactions, colossal amounts were unjustifiably and illegally paid out through a well-choreographed scheme by government officers in collusion with private individuals and institutions, Mr Haji said.