Kenya: Paul Gicheru - The Lawyer Who Could Ruin Ruto's Plans

William Ruto, Henry Kiprono Kosgey and Joshua Arap Sang appear before the ICC (file photo).
3 November 2020

In the streets of Eldoret, the political capital of Deputy President William Ruto, Mr Paul Gicheru, a middle aged, stout and light-skinned lawyer, is a household name.

Other than being among the most prominent lawyers in the town, he is also known for the role he played in having the case against Dr Ruto at the International Criminal Court (ICC) vacated.

Monday, the lawyer surrendered to the authorities of The Netherlands pursuant to an arrest warrant issued by the Pre-Trial Chamber II of the ICC, ending his five years on the run.

His surrender will greatly impact the political future of the DP, who has emerged as among the favourites for the 2022 presidential election race.

Mr Gicheru was indicted in 2015 on charges of obstructing the course of justice with his actions said to profit Dr Ruto and radio presenter Joshua Sang in their case at the ICC, where the pair were on trial for crimes against humanity.

The surrender of Mr Gicheru might lead to a revival of the case, depending on whether he provides evidence to support the innocence of Dr Ruto and Mr Sang or if he gives material that incriminates the two.

The lawyer was accused of corruptly influencing prosecution witnesses in relation to the 2007/2008 post-election violence that claimed more than 1,000 lives and displaced thousands of others.

Mr Gicheru's predicament started when he wrote to the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) demanding the removal of a witness identified as Samuel Kosgei from the prosecution list.

Unwilling to testify

He told the ICC prosecutor that his client had recanted his statement and was unwilling to testify.

"For avoidance of doubt, we reiterate our client's firm position that he does not wish to have anything to do with the first Kenyan case and will not testify on the basis of matters that he has confirmed are false in two sworn affidavits," said the letter dated March 18, 2013 and copied to the Public Counsel for Victims, and to the defence.

In March 2015, the ICC prosecutor accused him, under six counts with respect to six witnesses of the court, for offences against the administration of justice for allegedly corruptly influencing witnesses.

Read: DP Ruto lawyers go after ICC staff, witnesses

The prosecution provided 68 annexes containing documentary evidence, including a number of witness statements and transcripts of interviews, official documents and correspondence against the lawyer.

"In particular, Paul Mr Gicheru has been a manager and coordinator of the scheme, meaning that he has finalised agreements with corrupted witnesses, organised the formalisation of their withdrawal and handled the payment," the court was told.

Terms of witness withdrawal

In the first case, he was accused of offering Sh5 million in exchange for a witness identified as P-397 withdrawing their testimony.

In respect to another witness identified as P-516, Mr Gicheru met the witness, discussed and agreed on the terms of the witness's withdrawal, leading to the witness failing to attend a meeting with officials of the ICC.

He also promised witness P-800 Sh1.5 million for the withdrawal of evidence.

Before the start of the ICC trials, Mr Gicheru was largely unknown to the public.

Read: Last ICC witness in Ruto, Sang case fails to testify for the third time

The lawyer went to Kapsabet Boys High School from 1987 to 1990 and then joined the University of Nairobi for a law degree and later on to the Kenya School of Law for a diploma in law.

After his admission to the Bar, he started his career as an advocate working for Eldoret-based Kalya and Company Advocates.

Later, he opened his law firm, Mr Gicheru and Company Advocates, at Veecam building on Oloo Street, close to the Eldoret wholesale market.

One of his most famous cases is that of Ms Mary Toroitich Rono at the Court of Appeal in Eldoret in which he successful argued against the discrimination of daughters in sharing of family property.

Before moving to Nairobi where his family is, the lawyer lived at the upmarket Elgon View estate in Eldoret. He also owns a dairy farm in Naivasha.

Down to earth

Despite his predicament, those who know Mr Gicheru say nice things about the lawyer, whom they describe as a down to earth person who freely mingles with everyone.

He is known to patronise various social joints in Eldoret where he generously buys drinks for revellers.

"He has no airs and that is why when he was living in Eldoret, he was admired by many and was always ready to give a helping hand to many," says Erick Kipkorir, a resident of Eldoret town.

Although he comes from the Kikuyu community, Mr Gicheru is a fluent Kalenjin speaker, which gives him an upper hand in the community in Eldoret, especially among the elderly seeking legal representation.

"He was born and brought up here in Uasin Gishu and even learned the local dialect. And that is why when he started his law firm, people across the social strata became his clients," said Hellen Maina, another resident.

Many say Mr Gicheru leads a simple life and never uses "big vehicles" despite his resources.

"We knew him as a humble person who was ready to assist many. He even offered free legal services to those who could not afford charges," says Charles Maiyo from Eldoret town.

The arrest warrant against Mr Gicheru was initially issued under seal on March 10, 2015 by trial chamber Judge Ekaterina Trendafilova.

The warrant was also issued to Mr Gicheru's colleague Philip Bett, who is not in the ICC custody.

Despite being wanted by the ICC, the government rewarded him with a plum parastatal job in 2014 when he was appointed the head of the Public Procurement Review Board.

Disowned

It is believed that it is Mr Gicheru that Dr Ruto's defence lawyer Karim Khan disowned in a letter to the ICC.

"We have received allegations from various sources that you are holding yourself out as being a member or otherwise associated with the defence team of Mr William Ruto. This is of course, not correct ... this has been confirmed by Mr Ruto himself. Even more worrying is information from various sources that you are allegedly seeking to contact people believed to be ICC prosecution witnesses with the intention of asking them to 'come home' or not testify before the ICC.

"As you are no doubt aware, it is a criminal offence to interfere in any way with witnesses, or otherwise obstruct the administration of justice. I hereby must put you on notice that if these allegations are indeed true, such conduct and activities must stop immediately, failing which I may be compelled to make a formal complaint to the Kenyan Bar Association, Kenyan police and/or the International Criminal Court," wrote Mr Khan in the letter.

In July 2015, police arrested Mr Gicheru and Bett in Nairobi and presented them to the High Court in execution of the ICC's request for their arrest and surrender to the court.

However, they moved to court to block their arrests.

Mr Gicheru told the court that the ICC's request for arrest and surrender was vengeance against him for his unwillingness to co-operate with the international court's investigators and prosecutors in connection with the withdrawal of Mr Kosgei as a witness in the trials.

Additional report by Onyango K'onyango.

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