From right, Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission Director Patrick Lumumba addresses the press as Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg listens on February 3. The two promised to step up the fight against drug trafficking and corruption. Photo/PHOEBE OKALL
Pressure is mounting on the government to try the prominent Kenyans accused of being involved in drug trafficking or risk having them stand trial in US courts.
Kenya has become a major conduit for drug and human trafficking, and America has said it is willing to partner with the country and provide investigators and, when necessary, consider the option of extradition to deter would-be traffickers, US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told the media in Nairobi on Thursday.
The US government is coming down hard on transnational drug and human trafficking gangs and Kenya is at the centre of the purge as America seeks to prosecute suspects it believes are involved in drug trafficking.
The US has already tried several foreigners accused of drug-related offences in its local courts. Jamaican drug lord Michael Christopher “Dudus” Coke was handed over to US authorities on June 24, 2010 and is awaiting trial.
Many more from Mexico, Colombia, Panama and Cuba are in US custody either serving their terms or awaiting trial.
Mr Steinberg, the principal deputy to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was uncompromising on America’s desire to establish partnerships with governments around the globe to combat the vice.
“We certainly have a very strong mutual legal assistance tie with Kenya and we are confident if you present appropriate extradition cases it will be handled by the Justice department, but the State department also plays a role and we will do what we can within our legal authority to be supportive of your request,” said Mr Steinberg.
Mr Steinberg and Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission Director Patrick Lumumba addressed a joint news conference where they said trade in narcotics transcends national borders and utmost trust and cooperation among governments is the only way to go about fighting it.
“Transnational criminal organisations are a threat to all of us. We need to find ways to enhance our cooperation to deal with the threat to public integrity and to our children. We are very determined working with other partners around the world to strengthen this cooperation,” Mr Steinberg said.
The tough stance adopted by the US comes as police investigations were unable to link five people – four MPs and a businessman – to the vice.
Internal Security minister George Saitoti named former assistant minister and Kilome MP Harun Mwau, Kisauni MP Hassan Joho, Makadara MP Gidion Mbuvi, Juja MP William Kabogo and businessman Ali Punjani as suspects in the drugs trade.
But a preliminary police report says investigators did not find sufficient evidence to prosecute the suspects.
The inquiry was led by the deputy officer in charge of police operations Kambona Ombaba, Coast PPO Aggrey Adoli, his CID counterpart, and Mombasa Urban, Kisauni, Kilindini, and Malindi OCPDs. Malindi, Likoni and Kisauni DCs and a former drug user also participated in the investigation.
The team obtained search warrants and court orders to scrutinise bank accounts and some premises. “It is not easy to get evidence to incriminate them, let alone that which may withstand the rigorous test in a court of law against drug dealers,” the investigators said in the 300-page preliminary report handed to Police Commissioner Matthew Iteere last week.
Vanga, Shimoni, Mombasa, Kilifi, Malindi and Lamu are noted as major entry points due to convenient sea routes while Kijipwa, Ukunda, Lunga Lunga and Voi airstrips are favoured routes for drug smuggling because of minimal police presence. However, investigators noted in the report that suspects were using their vast wealth to silence informers.
Though Prof Lumumba says more investigations are likely to take place, the US was dissatisfied with the police probe and offered to provide Kenya with investigators.
The dossier on drugs was delivered to Kacc by US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger in November 2010 and subsequently handed over to the police for investigation. At the time, Mr Ranneberger also announced that the US had banned four MPs and a businessman from travelling to the US over their suspected involvement in drug trafficking.
Talking about the preliminary findings of the police investigations, Prof Lumumba said: “Fighting drugs is not a walk in the park and we hold the view that you need cooperation and where we don’t have expertise we admit it.”
The visiting US dignitary seized on that statement and said the existing strong mutual legal assistance ties with Kenya would enable them to come in when requested.
Prof Lumumba told the media that the preliminary report will chart the way forward. “That interim report will be the subject of discussion and if it becomes necessary to enlist the support of other organisations which have better expertise, that is the direction in which we’ll move.”
On corruption, Mr Steinberg said the US was willing to help Kenya fight graft and announced his government was ready to extradite perpetrators of the Anglo-Leasing scandal in which Kenya lost billions of taxpayers’ money through fraudulent transactions.
Two of the key suspects of the multi-billion scam reside in America – Dr Merlyn Kettering, formerly a consultant with the Kenya Treasury, and Bradley Birkenfeld, formerly a Swiss banker.
Mr Steinberg added the US government was pleased with the work of Kacc in combating graft in the country but called for more government support of the Lumumba-led anti-graft body.
“On behalf of Secretary Clinton, let me just say how important we believe that the work that the Commission is doing not only for the future of Kenya but for all of us,” Mr Steinberg said.
“The fight against corruption goes to the heart of the ability of the society to achieve prosperity and good governance and the aspirations of its people.”
Kenya has in the past accused the US of failing to cooperate in the extradition of Anglo-Leasing suspects. Several letters have been exchanged between Attorney-General Amos Wako and US government officials.
However, Prof Lumumba said Kacc had put together all the necessary documentation required to seek US assistance.
“I can confirm that we have for the first time succeeded in assembling all the critical documentation relating to Anglo-Leasing and it will help us piece together a formidable mutual legal assistance document.”