Disquiet has gripped Deputy President William Ruto’s political axis following a surprise surrender of a Kenyan lawyer wanted by the International Criminal Court for witness tampering.
Paul Gicheru, a highly connected advocate and the current chairman of the Export Processing Zone Authority, was slapped with an international arrest warrant in 2015 for alleged witness interference in the Ruto case.
However, in a surprise twist on Monday, the ICC announced that Gicheru had surrendered to Dutch authorities in the Netherlands, in what could pose a new headache to the DP.
“Today, 2 November 2020, Mr Paul Gicheru surrendered to the authorities of The Netherlands pursuant to an arrest warrant issued by Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court,” the ICC announced in a press release.
It was not immediately clear whether Gicheru surrendered or he was arrested while on a foreign trip.
Gicheru had aggressively fought his extradition to The Hague in the Kenyan courts and in February 2018, Judge Luka Kimaru quashed the warrant.
Pressed by the Star for answers, ICC Spokesman Fadi El Abdallah said: “The court, through the Registry services, submitted a cooperation request to the Dutch authorities for the arrest and surrender of Mr Gicheru to the court upon completion of the necessary national arrest proceedings.”
The surrender of the lawyer surprised lawyers, including those who helped him to secure the High Court victory.
“I have just learnt about it [the surrender] today. Of course my services came to an end after the judgment. But the decision was never appealed,” veteran lawyer John Khaminwa told the Star.
However, contacted about the arrest of one of his members, LSK president Nelson Havi asked: “How does that concern the LSK?”
The news about Gicheru triggered anxiety in Ruto’s political camp of fresh efforts to revive his ICC case ahead of the 2022 polls.
The DP had publicly alleged a grand scheme within government to scuttle his presidential bid, including reviving the ICC case.
“Some characters have sent people to Kenya to revive the ICC case. But I want to categorically tell them they will not succeed. In fact, it will be a big surprise to them,” Ruto alleged in January.
Ruto was never acquitted by the ICC. His case was terminated with a rider that he could be prosecuted, in future, if new evidence is available.
“The chamber declined to acquit the accused due to the special circumstances of this case… The Chamber made it clear that their decision is without prejudice to the presumption of innocence or the prosecution bringing the case on the basis of the same charges in the future, or in a different form, in light of new evidence,” Bensouda said.
Sources said Ruto has reached out to his legal team that was led by British lawyer Karim Khan to assess the legal implication of the new development.
Lawyers for Ruto and Sang’ repeatedly said the DP was not involved in any attempts to interfere with witnesses. They claimed the witnesses were coached and were in it for financial gain.
Gicheru and Philip Kipkoech Bett are wanted by the ICC for allegedly influencing six witnesses that led to the collapse of the case against Ruto and former journalist Sang’.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda alleges that Gicheru and his co-accused Bett paid or offered each of the six prosecution witnesses between Sh500,000 and Sh5 million to pull out as witnesses.
But Soy MP Caleb Kositany said there was no need to read politics in the move by Gicheru to surrender to The Hague-based court.
“Let us wait and see why he has surrendered . We have nothing to fear as supporters of William Ruto,” Kositany told the Star on the phone.
Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei said the ICC prosecutor is at liberty to seek arrest of anybody deemed to have obstructed justice. He, however, said that even if Gicheru is charged, his case will not warrant the revival of the cases against the Ocampo Six.
Cherargei said the evidence that were adduced then cannot be used against the former suspects unless the prosecutor starts the case afresh.
“Interference with justice is an offence both locally and internationally. People might want to interpret the arrest or surrender by Gicheru to mean that there is a possibility of the cases against Ocampo Six being reopened.
“There is what is known as double jeopardy that will apply. You cannot open a closed case on the same facts. So no need to worry,” the lawmaker said.
Bensouda said the complex scheme targeting witnesses began in April 2013, soon after Ruto and President Uhuru Kenyatta rode to power. In court papers, she painted Gicheru as the boss of the criminal enterprise, with Bett as his assistant.
“Paul Gicheru and Philip Kipkoech Bett played different roles in the scheme,” ICC Judge Ekaterina Trendafilova ruled.
“While Paul Gicheru had an overall coordinating role in the effort to corrupt witnesses, including the six who form the focus of the Application, Philip Kipkoech Bett participated under Paul Gicheru’s direction in the implementation of the effort in relation to certain witnesses.”
The chamber issued its first arrest warrant for bribery on August 2, 2013, against former Kenyan journalist Walter Barasa in connection with bribery allegations involving three prosecution witnesses.
Lawyers for Ruto and Sang have repeatedly said in public statements and submissions that their clients have not been involved in any attempts to interfere with witnesses in their trial.
At one time, Queen’s Counsel Karim Khan, representing the DP, appeared to be reading the riot act to Gicheru, although he did not mention him directly.
“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 HE William Ruto. This is of course, not correct.
“You have absolutely no involvement in my team nor have you been tasked directly or indirectly by HE William Ruto to have any involvement in the ICC case or with any putative witness. This has been confirmed by HE William Ruto himself,” Khan protested.