Although hundreds of Kenyan officials face fraud charges, the detention of a sitting minister still came as a surprise. Henry Rotich is accused of graft in connection with a dam project being overseen by an Italian firm.
Kenyan Finance Minister Henry Rotich was arrested on Monday on charges of fraud and corruption, the country's criminal investigation chief announced.
The charges against Rotich resulted from a police probe into financial misconduct in the construction of two dams in the western part of the country, which are being overseen by Italian firm CMC di Ravenna.
The finance minister was charged along with 27 other people, including another senior member of the finance ministry as well as the Italian director of CMC di Ravenna, Paolo Porcelli.
Noordin Haji, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said that Kenyan officials are suspected of making fraudulent payments to the Italian firm and ignoring legal procedures to ensure that the CMC di Ravenna was awarded the contracts.
"This kind of crime and irresponsibility enslaves us with unnecessary debt and mortgages our future generations," Haji said during a press conference.
'Colossal amounts' paid to Italian firm
The two dams in the project were budgeted to cost 46 billion shillings ($446 million, €396 million), but the treasury ended up borrowing 63 billion shillings instead, according to Haji.
The allegedly fraudulent deals further ballooned Kenya's already massive public debt, which currently stands at around 55% of GDP.
"They broke the law on public finance management under the guise of carrying out legitimate commercial transactions, colossal amounts were unjustifiably and illegally paid out through a well-choreographed scheme by government officers in collusion with private individuals and institutions," Haji said.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta's office declined to comment on the finance minister's replacement.
Hundreds of senior officials and businesspeople are facing corruption-related charges in Kenya, but the number of successful prosecutions remains low.