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Sh18m recovered from house of Land’s honcho

Top lands officials were detained by anti-corruption detectives following raids at their homes and offices from which Sh18 million and documents were confiscated.

The cash in Kenya shillings and US dollars was found in one of the homes raided by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission as part of investigations into a compensation scheme involving the standard gauge railway project.

The simultaneous raids conducted at the crack of dawn were sanctioned by the court.

COMPENSATION

Those detained are National Lands Commission chairman Muhammad Swazuri, vice chairman Abigael Mbagaya Mukolwe, chief executive officer Tom Aziz Chavangi, finance director Francis Mugo and his deputy, Ben Cherutich.

EACC deputy chief executive Michael Mubea confirmed the recovery of hard cash suspected to be part of the suspect payments.

“We have recovered crucial documents which will aid in our investigation. We have also recovered almost Sh18m, Sh16 million of which is in foreign currency and the rest in Kenyan shillings.

“We cannot cast aspersions on anyone this early and we cannot reveal the identity of the official found with the money because of confidentiality.”

EACC spokesman Yasin Aila said detectives were analysing documents confiscated and recording statements from the officials.

He added that they were investigating “compensation to individuals for public land, double compensation, payments to people who did not own land acquired for the SGR project, excessive compensation as a result of over valuation and compensation in regard to Kenya Railway Reserve land”.

ABUSE OF OFFICE
The officials are also being investigated for abuse of office, he said, adding that the suspect payments running into Sh2 billion were made in November and December last year.

Mr Aila said EACC had obtained court warrants to conduct the raids.

Besides the homes, the detectives raided the commission’s offices at ACK Bishops Annex and took away documents and electronics they said were crucial in the investigations.

Other reports indicated that the homes of the valuation and taxation director Salome Munubi and manager Mary Ngundo were also raided with regard to the suspicious payments.

The seven officials arrived at Integrity Centre, the EACC headquarters in a 14-seater van escorted by detectives and police officers.

“So far, important documents helpful to the investigations have been identified and recovered.

“Upon completion of the investigation EACC will forward a report and the inquiry file to the Director of Public Prosecutions with appropriate recommendations,” Mr Aila said.

IRREGULAR PAYMENTS
The matter has been the subject of discussion by the National Assembly’s Land Committee.

In one of the committee sessions, a member of the commission, Mr Abdulkadir Khalif told the committee that attempts to get information on the payments were being frustrated by the NLC secretariat.

Among the plots of land in question were five parcels in Embakasi valued at a combined Sh215 million.

In yet another session, the Lands ministry appeared to confirm that Sh1 billion may have been lost in the irregular payments.

Officials led by Lands Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi admitted that documents on whose strength land was bought for the railway project and millions paid out could not be trusted.

At another session on March 24, MPs heard from former journalist Mugo Njeru, who claimed that he was forced to give Sh1 million bribe to Dr Swazuri to get compensated for his land.

He told the MPs that, from his experience, bribery of NLC commissioners and staff by landowners eyeing compensation for the land they gave up for the SGR, were common.

KICKBACKS

He went ahead to table text messages, which showed that Dr Swazuri had received the alleged bribe through an aide, raising concerns that more people who genuinely owned land taken by the SGR could have been short-changed.

He said that Dr Swazuri was to receive an additional Sh25 million if the petitioner successfully got paid for the seven acre piece of land worth Sh43 million.

“I own some land somewhere on Mombasa Road and there has never been a dispute. One acre out of eight was acquired by Kenya Railways for the SGR,” Mr Mugo told the committee.

However, he explained, Dr Swazuri defied a unit of NLC and ordered payment of Sh82.8 million to Bakhresa Grain Millers Ltd, a Tanzanian grain handling firm for the land, using a forged title deed, instead of his company, Damla Enterprises Ltd.

HOSTILE WITNESS

Commissioners working alongside the chairman distanced themselves from any illegal transactions.

The commission’s vice chairman Abigael Mbagaya and Mr Tom Konyimbih, who were interviewed for hours by anti-corruption detectives alongside their chairman, told the committee they were not part of a decision to pay out the compensation.

Ms Mbagaya said Dr Swazuri was not expected to convene meetings in his office to make decisions on compensation.

On March 29, Dr Swazuri was declared a hostile witness when he refused to table documents earlier ordered by MPs.

The matter is in court after Dr Swazuri obtained orders stopping his probe.