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Judiciary signals tough times for graft suspects

“On face value, it sounds alarming and higher as one, not many Kenyans have such properties that can turn to surety for an accused person, and two,  not many Kenyan have such kind of cash to deposit in court” Samwel Mohochi

Chief Justice David Maraga’s judicial team has fired a warning shot that it will no longer be business as usual in the corridors of justice when it comes to corruption.

The Judiciary has come under sustained criticism that it is the weak link in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s renewed war on corruption.

Now the Maraga-led bench has signalled a painful, costly walk to freedom for graft suspects.

In what appeared to be a major victory for Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji, Anti-Corruption chief magistrate Douglas Ogoti ordered beleaguered Samburu Governor Moses Lenolkulal not to access his county government offices until his graft case is heard and determined.

Haji has previously complained that lenient bail terms favoured the rich and the powerful as it allowed them back to their offices, thus exposing witnesses and evidence to tampering.

In a precedent-setting order, Ogoti slapped Lenolkulal with Sh100 million cash bail, a bond of Sh150 million and surety of the same amount.

This was a far cry from the more generous terms of release routinely given to previous graft suspects.

For instance, suspects in the Sh486 million National Youth Service scandal, including ex-PS Lillian Omollo, were released on cash bail of Sh1 million only.

Last evening, High Court judge Mumbi Ngugi reduced the governor’s cash bail terms to Sh10 million or a Sh3o million bond. The orders blocking him from accessing his office remain in force.

Uhuru has personally led the onslaught against the Judiciary for what he termed “ridiculous” bail terms.

Yesterday, the debate flared as to whether the Judiciary was caving into the Executive’s pressure or finally waking up to crush the menace that is threatening to bring the country to its knees.

Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata, a lawyer, backed the tough bail terms for graft suspects, saying they would be a deterrent to runaway corruption.

He termed the high bond and bail a major victory for the President’s anti-graft efforts.

“People will now fear. Bail terms must be decided in such a manner that serves as a deterrent. Some of the suspects are powerful people who can interfere with evidence,” the Senate Deputy Chief Whip said.

His sentiments were echoed by Siaya Women Representative Christine Ombaka who said the costly terms of release from remand were a strong warning to perennial corruption suspects.

“This is a big lesson to governors that as they try to amass wealth, there is nowhere to hide. It’s a deterrence,” she told the Star.

But National Assembly Minority Leader John Mbadi warned that the ruling — though winning plaudits from some quarters — could be a poisoned chalice in the graft war as it fuels the perception that the Judiciary is ceding ground to the Executive.

He added, “Imposing heavy bond, to me, seems like pretrial conviction.”

The lawmaker said the debate must move from the amount given as bail or bond to the quick conclusion of graft cases in court.

“It is not a question of how much but how fast is the prosecution of corruption cases. Let us push for speedy prosecution so that justice is quick,” he said.

ODM national Treasurer Timothy Bosire termed the bail term for the Samburu governor “unusual and a new area”.

“This raises the question of whether the Judiciary is under control from the outside or things are being done arbitrarily to please the powers that be.”

Kuria West MP Mathias Robi said the tall orders by the court had become illogical, even if it meant supporting the war on corruption.

Lawyer Nelson Havi termed the bail and bond ruling “ridiculous and worrisome”.

“For a fact, the governor is a suspect. He may be found guilty or not but what justification is there to demand such exorbitant cash bail? To demand he doesn’t go back to the office. It sets a bad precedent,” he said.

He accused the judge of what he called succumbing to the mob lynch demand of the Executive.

“It is a clear case where the Honourable Ogoti, though pretending to appear bold and proactive, in actual fact has manifested a lot of weakness,” he said.

Transparency International Kenya executive director Samuel Kimeu said bail is supposed to secure attendance in court and not to serve as punishment.

“I get a sense Kenyans want bail used as a form of punishment, when in the actual sense that is not the purpose of bail — it is just security that when required to attend court you turn up and face your charges. I sometimes find the obsession with higher bail terms a bit misplaced,” he said.

“I will be a bit hesitant when that bail is used as a form of punishment. What I will insist on is a swift trial and where someone is found guilty, very stiff and punitive punishment,” he added.

Samwel Mohochi International Commission for Jurists (ICJ) Kenya Executive director said the setting of bail and bond is informed by the current Bail and Bond policy.

“On face value, it sounds alarming and higher as one, not many Kenyans have such properties that can turn to surety for an accused person, and two,  not many Kenyan have such kind of cash to deposit in court,” Mohochi said.

Story Published by The Star

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