President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) and Swiss counterpart Alain Berset (left) witness the signing of a framework agreement for return of stolen assets stashed in Switzerland to Kenya by the Swiss Ambassador to Kenya Ralf Henker and Attorney General Paul Kihara on June 9, 2018. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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 UK 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.
“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.
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.
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 UK, the US and DR Congo 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.