Embattled chairman of the National Land Commission Muhammad Swazuri and seven other top officials were today morning rounded up from their homes by anti-graft detectives over questionable Standard Gauge Railway land compensation amounts totaling an estimated two billion shillings.
According to Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) deputy CEO Michael Mubea, the officers recovered in cash totalling almost Sh18 million in both local currency and US dollars from one of the officials’ houses.
“We have recovered documents which will help us in the process of investigations. We have also recovered almost eighteen million shillings from one of the officials. We don’t want to cast aspersions this early on anyone but we cannot disclose the name of the official for purposes of confidentiality, ” Mubea said.
According to sources at Integrity Centre, the EACC headquarters, Sh1 million in local currency and $170,000 that had been stuffed in a box was found tucked under a bed.
The officials were then dramatically bundled into vehicles and taken to EACC headquarters under tight security at noon.
The detectives conducted multiple searches in Swazuri’s home and NLC offices gathering land ownership documents of parcels of land in question.
Among the cases EACC was investigating is a Sh82 million payout suspected to have been made to a company belonging to Tanzanian tycoon, Salim Bakhresa of Bakhresa Grain Millers Ltd, in compensation for land that was under dispute.
Also, sleuths took Swazuri to task to explain the Sh1.6 billion payment made to a Mombasa based tycoon Mohamed Jaffer of African Gas & Oil Company Ltd (Agol) against a court order barring the payout. NLC made initial payout of Sh519million and later Sh1.1billion to Agol.
“EACC has been investigating various allegations of corruption at the National Land Commission in respect to compensation for land acquired for the Standard Gauge Railway. It is alleged over Sh2 billion was irregularly paid out in November and December, 2016.” EACC spokesperson Yassin Amaro said.
Amaro said EAC was investigating NLC officials over compensation to individuals for public land, double compensation, compensation to people who do not own land affected by SGR, excessive compensation as a result of over-valuation, compensation in respect to Kenya Railways reserve land and abuse of office by public officials charged with processing compensation.
He said the probe targets Swazuri, his deputy Abigael Mukolwe Mbagaya, chief executive officer Tom Aziz Changingi, Finance Director Francis Mugo and his deputy Mary Ngundo and Valuation and Taxation Director Salome Munubi among other officials.
Detectives visited and conducted searches at NLC vice chairperson Abigael Mbagaya’s Nairobi home but she was said to have been out of town.
“So far, important documents helpful to the investigations have been identified and recovered,” said Amaro.
He added: “Upon completion of investigations EACC will forward a report and the inquiry file to the Director of Public Prosecutions with appropriate recommendations.”
By the time of going to press all the six officials were still being held at Integrity Centre being grilled before they could record statements.
According to EACC investigators, Swazuri and his team have paid individuals for public land, authorised double compensation and compensation to people who do not own land affected by SGR.
Further, according to evaluation documents in possession of investigators, public funds were lost due to over-valuation of certain parcels.
NLC top officials are accused of colluding with outsiders to irregularly compensate individuals holding titles for Kenya Railway Reserve land and abuse of office in processing the payments.
NLC Legal Officer Brian Ikol presented himself at Integrity Center for grilling.
He is accused of making false statements on actual ownership of parcels of land in question.
Numerous complaints have been filed both in Parliament and at EACC over the manner in which NLC has handled compensation for the SGR and other parcels of land countrywide.
Former journalist Mugo Njeru filed a petition in the National Assembly over a Sh82million payment seeking the removal of Swazuri, arguing there was unfair compensation.
In a letter dated February 2, 2017, Joseph Nyingi Kamau and three other people petitioned EACC to investigate plans by NLC to compensate African Gas & Oil Company Sh519 million for a parcel of land the petitioners said belonged to them.
Lawyers Ndegwa, Katisya, Sitonik Advocates, say the petitioners are being unreasonably deprived of their rights, to full and just compensation.
The land at the centre of ownership dispute between the Kamau family and Jaffer was compulsorily acquired by the government for construction of the Standard Gauge Railway plot number 755/VI/755 bearing Title No. CR4151.
“It is ordered that this honourable court hereby restrains the defendant by itself, agents, employees, proxies, servants, officers, directors or otherwise from effecting payment, or any payments and or compensation and or in any other way or manner from interfering with all that parcel known as L.T NO. MN/VI/4737 pending the hearing and determination of this suit,” the order issued by Justice Ann Omollo reads in part.
The commission is also being investigated over the disposal of at least five parcels of land in Embakasi valued at a combined Sh215 million.