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Kenya: Police hunt for 20 in Sh2.5bn advertising scam

Police were on Saturday evening assembling a special team to track down and arrest 20 suspects wanted for the loss of Sh2.5 billion at the Government Advertising Agency (GAA).

This is after the 20, led by former broadcasting Principal Secretary Sammy Itemere, failed to surrender themselves to detectives investigating the scandal at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI).

The detectives arrested former GAA boss Dennis Chebitwey over the scandal.

Mr Chebitwey was arrested in Nairobi’s Mountain View estate after a daylong search for him. He was driven to the DCI headquarters on Kiambu Road for interrogation.

“We have finally got him, we are going for the others,” said a detective involved in the search for the suspects.

TRACED TO KITALE

Sources privy to the investigations said Mr Itemere had been traced to Kitale Town in Trans Nzoia County Saturday and ordered to surrender himself at the DCI.

The suspects will be charged in court on Monday. The first to be arrested was Lugari MP Ayub Savula, who is accused of obtaining Sh122 million from the agency through fraudulent means.

Mr Savula was arrested at Pronto Restaurant on Kimathi Street in the Nairobi Central Business District on Friday evening and locked up at the Muthaiga Police Station.

He spent the second night in the police cells as police launched a manhunt for his two wives, Ms Melody Ringera and Ms Hellen Kemboi, both directors of several companies at the centre of the scandal.

From Pronto, Mr Savula was taken to the DCI headquarters where he recorded a statement before being locked up.

SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE

Mr Savula, his two wives and Mr Chebitwey, are among 22 individuals the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Noordin Haji says will be charged with conspiracy to commit a felony, abuse of office, obtaining money by false pretences, making a document without authority and aiding the commission of a felony.

“I have reviewed the file and I am satisfied that there is sufficient evidence of fraudulent advertisement and payment.

I am further satisfied that Mr Itemere approved the fraudulent payments. Accordingly, I have directed the DCI to arraign the persons in court and be charged,” Mr Haji said.

According to the DPP, the government allocated GAA funds for media advertisement by various ministries, departments and agencies.

“But these funds were fraudulently paid to spurious media companies. The impact of corruption and siphoning of funds meant for the payment to the media houses has thus undermined the freedom and independence of the media,” the DPP said.

DETAIN SUSPECTS

Ms Ringera and Ms Kemboi are directors of M/s the Sunday Publishers Limited, Melsav Company Limited, Johnnewton Communications, the Express Media Group, No Burns Protection Agencies Limited, Cross Continents Ventures Limited and Shieldlock Limited that allegedly benefited from the irregular payments.

Curiously, a majority of these entities are business names and not fully-fledged companies with a shared office on the 5th floor of Finance House on Loita Street in Nairobi’s CBD.

Some of the firms are curiously named after the two term MP and his immediate family members. For instance, Melsav is an acronym for Melody and Savula, while Johnnewton is named after his son.

Others the DPP wants charged over the scandal are Mr Dickson Nyandiga, Mr Henry Mungasia, Mr Fredrick Owiti, Ms Edith Nkanata, Mr Amos Tayari, Ms Susan Ouma, Ms Gladys Mwanyika and Ms Agren Ateka.

REMAINED DEFIANT

Ms Nellie Kibocha, Mr Sammy Mule, Ms Tabitha Oriba, Mr Martin Njenga, Ms Hannah Wanderi, Mr Edmundi Munene, Mr Victor Achola, and Mr Joseph Charagu are also to be arraigned.

Mr Savula will be hoping that his April 11, 2015 suggestion that the constitution be amended to allow courts to detain suspected criminals until investigations are concluded does not return to haunt him when he appears in court on Monday.

Speaking to Nation on Saturday, Mr Savula remained defiant that the government owed him millions of shillings for service his companies rendered.

“They have to pay, there are no two ways about it,” a defiant Mr Savula said, adding; “I delivered services, they must pay, they cannot pay half of the amount and fail to pay the remaining, whatever happens, they will have to pay the entire amount.”

Saturday morning, he was driven to the DCI headquarters on Kiambu Road and interrogated for hours.

PROCUREMENT SERVICES

“They wanted to know how we acquired the services. That is all. They have brought me back to Muthaiga (police station),” he said.

Investigations into the matter started in August when Mr Haji ordered the DCI to conduct a probe into the procurement services from media, failure to honour contracts at the Ministry of Information.

The suspects in the scandal will face several charges ranging from obtaining money by false pretence, abuse of office, conspiracy to commit a felony, aiding the commission of a felony, making a document without authority.

Ms Ringera is the founder and director of Melsav Company Limited and another called Marya communications.

She is an active member of the Public Relations Society of Kenya. She is also an active member of the Marketing Society of Kenya.

The Nation has learnt that she also does communication consultations for a number of companies in the country.

ADVERTISING EXPENSES

GAA was started to assist the government to cut down the advertising expenses which was described as being ‘too expensive’.

However, it has been struggling to pay those that offer it services.

GAA buys advertisements space on behalf of government departments and agencies, collects payments, and is supposed to pay media firms but has not been remitting the funds.

To make matters worse, media firms have been forced to pay value added tax for the outstanding amounts.

GAA puts all its adverts inside a government newspaper called MyGov, which is inserted inside newspapers.

BIG PARASTATALS

The DCI launched investigations following an August 7 editorial in the Nation appealing to the DPP to investigate GAA for failing to pay media houses for years despite services being rendered.

When GAA was set up in 2012, it was supposed to help the government cut advertising expenses. However, big parastatals are privately complaining that their advertising costs have gone up tremendously and are not getting the kind of response they ordinarily do when they advertise directly.

By Daily Nation

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