Kenya prosecutor to charge 54 in '$80m' graft scandal

2018-05-29 06:02

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Kenya's top prosecutor said on Monday he would charge 54 suspects over the theft of $80m from the national youth agency, the latest in a string of graft scandals to erupt in the country.

The latest scandal at the National Youth Service (NYS) involves the alleged fraudulent payment of millions of dollars for goods and services, often to family and friends of powerful politicians.

Police arrested the director of the National Youth Service (NYS), Richard Ndubai, and the principal secretary in the youth ministry, Lilian Omollo, as well as 18 others in dawn raids on Monday.

Another 34 suspects still being sought were named in a statement by Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Mohamed Haji.

"My office is preparing to have the suspects arraigned in court to answer to the charges," he said in a statement, adding the complicity of banks in the fraud would also be probed.

The NYS is a paramilitary training institution that has been at the forefront of President Uhuru Kenyatta's plan to combat high youth unemployment.

Enrolment is voluntary, and sees youths receive a stipend while receiving technical training and working on government projects.

With a budget soaring to some $250m a year, the NYS has been plagued by Kenya's endemic corruption, with a first scandal breaking in 2015 after the theft of $7m through inflated pricing and fictitious payments.

Investigators and media initially reported $90m had been stolen.

But Haji said on Monday the fraud pertained to bills totalling $80m - an amount disputed by top NYS officials.

Kenyan media have reported how the NYS paid $10m for beef in one year - meaning each recruit would have had to consume 66 kilos of beef a day.

In another example a car tyre was purchased for $1m.

According to the prosecutor's office, charges will include abuse of office, stealing public funds and forgery, amongst others.

Corruption scandals have in recent days also hit electricity utility Kenya Power - where families and friends of employees were found in an audit to have bagged multi-million dollar contracts.

Fraudulent payments of $30m have also been uncovered at the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB).

In 2017 Kenya fell to 143rd out of 180 countries in Transparency International's annual corruption index.

In March, a damning report from the auditor general showed government could not account for $400m in public funds.

Kenyatta has vowed to combat corruption, a refrain weary Kenyans have heard from multiple presidents.

In an editorial in the Saturday Standard, a columnist referred to a 1968 headline in which government vowed to "crush" corruption.

"Since independence government in Kenya has not been about service ... The foremost reward of winning an election would seem to be the opportunity to steal," wrote columnist Barrack Muluka.

"We have sung the anti-corruption song for far too long, we can only be tired of it."

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