Suspended Kenya minister cleared of graft
Nairobi - Kenya's High Court on Tuesday acquitted suspended cabinet minister William Ruto of corruption charges, the first of two potential trials that could have foiled his bid to run for president in elections due next year.
Ruto, who was suspended from his higher education portfolio to fight the charges, is also one of six suspects named by the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a suspect behind the bloodshed that followed a disputed December 2007 election.
Ruto, who appeared at the ICC in The Hague last Thursday, has declared his intention to run for the top post in east Africa's biggest economy in elections due in 2012.
He was charged alongside Sammy Mwaita, a member of parliament, and former President Daniel arap Moi's aide Joshua Kulei, who were also acquitted of the charges.
The three faced fraud charges relating to the sale of land in the Ngong forest near the capital.
"I find the evidence adduced by the prosecution does not support the charges, and I therefore find they have no prima facie case to be put on their defence," Nairobi Chief Magistrate Gilbert Mutembei said in his ruling.
Analysts said the acquittal was likely to boost Ruto's political credentials and it opened the door to him possibly regaining his cabinet portfolio, which he was stripped of by President Mwai Kibaki.
"This is a great day for us. We have carried this burden and baggage for the last eight years... The truth has come out," Ruto told reporters outside the court.
"This case was doomed to fail from the word go because it was not about criminal justice it was about political persecution."
Ruto said he was confident he would be cleared of the other case against him, referring to the ICC accusations.
Ruto has a date with the ICC pre-trial judges who are due to start hearings in September to confirm whether the six suspects named by the prosecutor have a case to answer.
More than 1 200 people were killed and hundreds of thousands uprooted from their homes during the election violence, severely denting Kenya's reputation for stability in a turbulent region.