Kenyan Finance Minister Henry Rotich was arrested on Monday on suspicion of corruption related to the construction of two dams.
Despite Kenya’s notorious graft, it is unprecedented for a sitting minister to be arrested for corruption.
Charges against Rotich, announced on Monday, stem from a police investigation into the misuse of funds in a dam project overseen by the Italian construction company CMC di Ravenna.
Rotich denied any wrong-doing in a large newspaper advertisement in March. The company has also denied any wrong-doing.
Rotich and his co-accused face eight charges, ranging from conspiring to defraud and financial misconduct, Noordin Haji, the director of public prosecutions, said. The minister and other officials will have to resign immediately, he said.
Rotich was arrested shortly after the charges were announced, George Kinoti, the head of the police Directorate of Criminal Investigations, told Reuters in a text message.
The minister will be charged along with 27 other people, including Italian Paolo Porcelli, the director of CMC di Ravenna, and Rotich’s number two at the ministry, Kamau Thugge, the principal secretary.
“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 told a news conference.
The two dams were budgeted to cost 46 billion shillings ($446 million), he said, but the treasury borrowed far more.
The national treasury negotiated a commercial facility increasing the amount to approximately 63 billion shillings -which is 17 billion more than necessary or required, payable on a timely basis without regard to a performance or works,” he said.
Kenyan prosecutors have requested help from British and Italian authorities, Kinoti said, and more charges could result.