18 December 2018

Kenya: Cover-Up Fears As Graft Evidence Stolen From Swazuri's Office

Crucial evidence that prosecutors were to rely on in a case where National Land Commission Chairman Muhamad Swazuri, former Kenya Railways managing director Athanas Maina and 13 others are charged with irregular compensation for land has gone missing.

A computer containing the crucial documents disappeared from NLC offices on Sunday, just a day before Sh7.2 billion for the compensation of land being acquired for the Nairobi-Naivasha Standard Gauge Railway project was disbursed.

CRUCIAL DATA

The computer is believed to hold crucial data connected to the case in which Prof Swazuri and the others are accused of irregularly compensating land owners for the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR phase, which was completed in June last year.

Prof Swazuri was allowed to resume work by the courts despite fears by the prosecution that letting him back to work could jeopardise the case.

He successfully argued that he wouldn't, and detectives are not imputing any improper motive on him or his officers yet. Justice Hedwig Ong'udi, however, directed him not to interact or interfere with witnesses at his workplace or elsewhere.

DOCUMENTS

Prof Swazuri was also required to give an undertaking not to interfere with the records and documents relevant to the case as that would lead to automatic cancellation of his bond.

This is the second high-profile corruption case in recent months whose documents have gone missing, after those in the Kenya Power faulty transformers case disappeared.

NO BACKUP

A source told the Nation Monday that data in the computer, housed at the NLC's Department of Valuation and Taxation, had no backup, meaning the new developments would effectively throw verification of the compensation payments in limbo.

Detectives from the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission said they were yet to confirm whether some of the missing records relate to investigations at the NLC.

"When we ask the NLC for records on a particular land transaction they always comply," EACC spokesperson Yasin Amaro told the Nation. "It is too early to tell whether the documents that have gone missing relate to information that we shall need in future."

Our efforts to get more information on the matter from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and NLC CEO David Kuria were futile as neither had responded to our requests by the time of going to press last evening.

FRESH STORM

As detectives try to crack the case, the NLC is staring at a fresh storm as a lobby group seeks to have Parliament send home its four commissioners over alleged mismanagement and lack of accountability.

Land Sector Non-State Actors filed a petition before the National Assembly on Friday asking that Prof Swazuri, his deputy Abigail Mbagaya, Mr Isaiah Lenacharu and Mr Abdulkadir Adan Khalif be sent home following a number of issues surrounding compensation, issuance of title deeds, and unconventional changes in committees that aided the loss of millions in taxpayers' funds.

The developments come barely a month after Prof Swazuri resumed his duties at NLC, after the High Court dismissed an application by the Director of Public Prosecutions to bar him from resuming office pending the outcome of the criminal case.

THEFT REPORTED

Insiders at the commission confirmed that the theft was reported Monday, but did not indicate whether it was a break-in or an inside job.

The commission has invited the Directorate of Criminal Investigations to investigate the matter.

"The fact that such sensitive data has no backup is worrying," the source said last evening. "It is likely to make operations at the commission very difficult. Also to be affected are investigations in the ongoing cases involving frivolous compensation approved in the last few years."

While such loopholes may see corrupt commission officials cover their trails and walk scot-free, there is also the possibility of unauthorised change of land records, which consequently undermines confidence in property ownership and registration.

Lost, defaced, destroyed, duplicated or even altered records are some of the ills regularly cited by genuine land owners whenever they make complaints on losing out on compensation.

VALUATION

The Valuation and Taxation department undertakes valuations for taxation of land and premiums on immovable property as well as the compulsory acquisition of land for State agencies. It also receives annual ground rents and offers advisory valuation services.

While not disputing the reports, the department's acting director Joash Oindo declined to comment on the matter and referred the Nation to acting CEO David Kuria.

Mr Kuria disconnected our calls, requesting that we send a text message, which we did.

In the petition to the National Assembly, the Land Sector Non-State Actors lobby group argues that the four commissioners have colluded to pay unwarranted compensations to various companies and individuals, and also irregularly allocated title deeds.

COMPENSATIONS

The lobby says some of the compensations include over Sh200 million paid out to two firms -- Dahase Investments and Olomotit Estate Limited -- Sh400 million for a piece of land along the Eastern Bypass, and Sh1.5 billion in the Ruaraka land saga.

"In many instances, even without having concluded hearings, Prof Swazuri purported to make unreasoned oral determinations and had the same publicised and published in the Kenya Gazette. The processes were conducted with the use of taxpayers' money and the High Court has, in about 98 per cent (of instances), overturned the Committee's determinations, with the other two per cent being sustained where parties have entered a consent or withdrawn the claims," the lobby says.

NLC has been on the spot over its failure to disclose beneficiaries of a Sh2.8 billion compensation payout in the year to June 2016. Already, its embattled chairman and other officials have been charged in court with irregularly paying out Sh221.3 million in standard gauge railway (SGR) land compensation.

Also charged are the commission's chief executive Chavangi Aziz Tom, two senior directors -- Ms Salome Munubi (Valuation and taxation) and Mr Francis Mugo (Finance) -- and Ms Gladys Mwikali Muyanga, a land registrar.

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