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Kenya reaches out to seven nations in trail of its looted billions

The Government of Kenya has written to at least seven countries seeking details on billions of shillings suspected to be stashed abroad by influential individuals, including prominent politicians and businessmen.

DECISIVE

In a decisive step that marks renewed efforts after previous failed attempts to recover money hidden abroad, top officials have told the Sunday Nationthere will soon be nowhere to hide for those who have attempted to avoid scrutiny of local bank accounts by hiding money in foreign countries, some of which have a dubious reputation as safe havens for ill-gotten wealth.

CROSS-CHECKING

On Saturday, two separate sources from institutions charged with fighting graft confirmed that the Attorney-General had written to seven countries seeking information about bank accounts and assets in the names of Kenyan citizens, which are suspected to have been proceeds of corruption.

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations are involved in the process and are said to be cross-checking details they hold about prominent individuals.

DETAILS

While EACC deputy CEO Michael Mubea acknowledged requests had been made to a number of countries for co-operation in the investigations, he declined to provide further details that could threaten bilateral relationships.

“We have made certain requests to certain countries and we are hoping for the best,” Mr Mubea said.

ACCOUNTS

Another source who requested to speak in confidence expressed shock at what the preliminary interactions with the countries where monies are hidden were revealing.

“We are on the right path and we have gained access to accounts that we have never even heard of in the past. Some of the countries we have reached out to have never featured in our radar, ever,” the source said, pointing to the great lengths the corrupt are going to hide their loot.

JURISDICTIONS

It is the work of the Multi-Agency Taskforce that includes EACC, the National Treasury, the Kenya Revenue Authority, the Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) and the DCI.

Attorney-General Paul Kihara, who we were told was directly involved in the matter, did not respond to our queries.

The Sunday Nation has learnt that some of the foreign jurisdictions the government could have approached include Dubai that has lately become attractive to Kenyans who want to hide their wealth, United Kingdom, Mauritius and Switzerland.

ASSETS

“Already, a number of assets that belong to Kenyans have been traced to the UK, especially in London. Dubai is the other place,” our source, who has links to the Multi-Agency Taskforce, said.

In recent weeks, Australia has also emerged as one of the destinations the corrupt are going to hide their loot.

LAUNDERED

This emerged after the money trail led investigators to Australia as they investigated Migori Governor Okoth Obado. Investigators allege that the governor and his children travelled to Australia carrying Sh4.5 million, part of which EACC discovered could have been laundered at a casino in Australia.

Kenya has this year signed agreements with United Kingdom and Switzerland, the Framework for the Return of Assets from Corruption and Crime in Kenya, whose ultimate aim is to have a structured way of engaging in helping with the recovery of ill-acquired wealth stashed in their territories. Jersey is also expected to sign the deal.

PACTS

“The countries we have signed pacts with have agreed to co-operate with us in doing the investigations,” Ms Muthoni Kimani, who heads the Asset Recovery Agency, said.

An amnesty period issued by National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich that ended in July saw no one come forward to declare that they have foreign bank accounts despite a new report by National Bureau of Economic Research, a US-based think-tank, showing that Sh5 trillion is held in offshore accounts.

REQUESTS

The amnesty was applicable to those who have unknown business and bank accounts abroad.

We established that most of the requests concern the ongoing corruption cases and investigations, including the National Youth Service (NYS), Kenya Power, Kenya Pipeline and county governments among others.

TRANSFERRED

In August, Ms Kimani told a committee of Parliament that the multi-agency team established by President Kenyatta in 2015 to enhance the fight against corruption had established banks are the weakest link in the war.

As critical as they are in financial dealings, the team had concluded that there is need to change the law to compel the banking institutions to report suspicious financial transactions in real time as opposed to the seven days provided for by the law.

The fear is that within that time, money would have been withdrawn or transferred, including to jurisdictions outside Kenya.

INTELLIGENCE

“Seven days is too long a time to pursue suspicious bank transactions. There is need for the law to be amended specifically to shorten the period to real time. And we hope the banks will support this,” Ms Kimani told the justice committee of the Senate.

While she acknowledged that banks are an integral part of the war on corruption, where they are helping the team in gathering intelligence, the challenge is that they have been placed at the tail end of the process and warned that this is dangerous.

PROCESS

“They have guided us well on intelligence gathering but we must put them ahead of the process not at the end of it so that we get information as early as possible,” she said.

At the meeting, Mr Mubea said the team’s interest was not to register success by taking people to court but by raising awareness and disrupting corruption before it happens and eventually recovering what has been stolen.

“We are going for the stolen money to ensure it is recovered,” he said.

SUPPRESSED

Many attempts to trace and repatriate proceeds of crime stashed overseas by Kenyan citizens have hardly realised any results.

An audit by UK’s Kroll Associates, which was commissioned by former President Mwai Kibaki early in his tenure but was suppressed and remains unpublished to date despite the efforts and resources that went into the work.

UNTOUCHABLE

A copy of the leaked audit listed Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Canada, Finland, Germany, Grand Cayman, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jersey, Liechtenstein, Liberia, Luxembourg, Malawi, Namibia, the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, Russia, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Switzerland, the UAE, Uganda, the United Kingdom, the United States and Zaire as some of the countries the stolen wealth was stashed by Kenyans.

Even though the renewed fight against corruption has appeared to be slowing down, the Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji has had many senior government officials, previously untouchable to stand trial for corruption.

CHARGED

Among those he has charged with corruption and abuse of office are former Sports cabinet secretary Hassan Wario, former principal secretaries Lillian Omollo, Richard Ekai and Richard Lesiyampe, present and former Kenya Power bosses Ken Tarus and Ben Chumo among others, top managers of National Cereals and Produce Board, Kenya Railways boss Atanas Maina, and chairman of the National Land Commission Mohammed Swazuri among others.

By Daily Nation

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