Kenya’s Finance Minister Henry Rotich pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to corruption charges over the award of two dam tenders, in an unprecedented legal move against a sitting minister in a country notorious for graft.
Rotich was due to be freed on bail after his lawyers argued he was not a flight risk. He was accused alongside other senior officials of conspiring to defraud the public, among other charges, having spent the night in a police cell.
Chief Magistrate Douglas Ogoti granted him bail on a cash surety of 15 million shillings ($145,000) and ordered Rotich to visit his office only under supervision, calling it a crime scene.
Dressed in a grey pinstripe suit and yellow tie, Rotich denied the charges before a packed Nairobi court. Not all the 28 accused were in court, but all 20 who were also pleaded not guilty.
The case stems from an investigation into the misuse of funds in two dam projects planned in western Kenya, overseen by Italian construction company CMC Di Ravenna.
Kenya also charged a director of the company in absentia with conspiracy to defraud the country. Kenya will seek Paolo Porcelli’s extradition from Italy, director of public prosecutions Noordin Haji said on Tuesday.
The company had not complied with a request to give statements to Kenyan authorities, he told Reuters.
CMC di Ravenna denied wrongdoing on Monday and said it had not been informed of any such request. Officials of the company were not available for comment on Tuesday.
The two dams were budgeted at 46 billion shillings ($446 million) but the treasury borrowed 63 billion instead, Haji said on Monday, needlessly ratcheting up Kenya’s ballooning public debt, which stands at around 55% of GDP.