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Former Top Kenya AIDS Official Faces Fraud Charges - 2004-02-25

The former head of Kenya's National AIDS Control Council has appeared in court to face fraud charges. Her replacement is confident the case will not affect future AIDS funding.

Dr. Margaret Gachara is charged with three counts of fraud in obtaining more than $300,000 through false pretenses.

She is alleged to have falsified documents from her past employers to obtain higher pay, and ended up earning almost seven times more than the job description called for.

Government officials had justified her salary on the basis that it was matching what she had previously earned.

Dr. Gachara was suspended last August after investigators from the president's office discovered the alleged fraud.

Her successor, Dr. Patrick Orege, says the trial sends a strong message to those in the AIDS community. "That one will be a reminder to many people who are going to use HIV/AIDS money that it must be used properly and it must be used for the activities that it is targeted for and that misappropriation is not allowed, said Dr. Orege.

When the controversy first broke, AIDS activists and observers said they were afraid the situation at the National AIDS Control Council would cause donors to reduce or stop funding of AIDS projects in Kenya.

But Dr. Orege says he hopes international donors will see the fraud case as an isolated incident. "The government is trying to make it clear that it is not going to allow the resources to be diverted," he said.

The verdict in the case is expected to be handed down Friday.