Kenyan court grants bail to Nairobi governor charged with corruption

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NAIROBI (Reuters) – A Kenyan court granted bail on Wednesday to the Nairobi County governor charged with multi-million dollar corruption in one of the most high profile cases in the government’s anti-graft push.

Prison and police officers keep watch over Nairobi’s Governor Mike Sonko as he appears for a hearing on his bond application after he was arrested on corruption-related charges, at the Milimani Law Courts in Nairobi, Kenya. December 11, 2019. REUTERS/Njeri Mwangi

The move was opposed by the prosecution, which argued Governor Mike Mbuvi Sonko was likely to interfere with witnesses and obstruct the investigation.

Sonko, an elected official from President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee party known for his flamboyant lifestyle, was arrested on Friday.

He has denied charges of conspiracy to commit corruption, conflict of interest, failure to comply with procurement laws, unlawful acquisition of public property and laundering.

Corruption is a huge drag on the economy and investor confidence in East Africa’s business hub.

Since taking office in 2013, Kenyatta has repeatedly pledged to tackle graft and over the past year the country’s top prosecutor has charged dozens of officials, including the then sitting finance minister.

The president has not commented on Sonko’s case.

Magistrate Douglas Ogoti said the bail ruling took into account the presumption of innocence. He said Sonko would be freed after posting a bond of 30 million shillings ($296,000) with one surety of a similar amount and a cash bail of 15 million shillings.

Sonko, a former senator, was elected in 2017 after years of news splashes about his flashy fashion sense including chunky gold jewellery and eye-catching hairstyles.

The prosecution had also opposed the governor’s release on bail because they said he had previously escaped from custody following conviction in two criminal cases in the late 1990s.

Sonko’s team did not respond to that.

Ogoti also ordered the governor not to incite supporters once free nor to post on social media about the case.

Police set up barriers on streets around the court before the hearing in anticipation of possible trouble. In November, police used teargas to disperse supporters when he was called into the anti-corruption office for questioning.

Sonko was recently photographed using a gold-plated iPad and matching iPhone and has appeared in rap videos gyrating in gold-coloured trainers while insulting political opponents.

He invited a storm of criticism this month after he shared photos online of his dining room, featuring a gold-plated lion statue and a gold-tinted dining table and chairs.

He has recruited hundreds of people into his “Sonko Rescue Team” who sweep out streets or appear at fires wearing “Sonko”- branded red boiler suits in Nairobi’s poorest neighbourhoods.

But despite taking a recent award for encouraging volunteering, Sonko’s watch has seen little improvement in public services. Public schools and clinics are crumbling, roads are potholed and hundreds of thousands of people live in slums without access to services.

($1 = 101.5000 Kenyan shillings)

Reporting by Humphrey Malalo; Additional reporting by Omar Mohammed and Maggie Fick; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Maggie Fick and Andrew Cawthorne

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