International Criminal Court suspect William Ruto has been cleared of fraud charges in Kenya’s courts, paving the way for his return to the cabinet.
After nearly seven years of legal battles, suspended Kenyan Higher Education Minister Ruto has been cleared of fraud charges. Ruto faced trial for his alleged involvement in the illegal sale of land in the protected Ngong Forest to the Kenya Pipeline Corporation for an estimated $3.4 million. Ruto was accused of receiving more than half a million dollars in the illicit deal.
In a ruling late Tuesday, Nairobi Chief Magistrate Gilbert Mutembei dismissed the case, finding the evidence insufficient to indict the Kenyan politician and his co-defendants. As the chairman of the Law Society of Kenya, Apollo Mboya, explains, though, the ruling did not address the innocence or guilt of Ruto.
"The magistrate was of the view that it was not enough evidence to put them on their defense," said Mboya. "It doesn’t mean that he did not do it, but the evidence as presented did not warrant him to be put on his defense."
Mboya told VOA that while appeal was possible, it was not common or likely in a situation such as Ruto’s. Charges were first brought against Ruto in June of 2004. Shortly after, he challenged their validity in Kenya’s Constitutional Court. The challenge was not heard until October of last year, when the court’s judges ordered Ruto to stand trial. The politician was suspended from his post as higher education minister by President Mwai Kibaki, a move mandated by Kenya’s Economic Crimes Act.
With the charges against him dropped, the former minister is now legally cleared to retake his post. But while Kenya’s laws mandate the removal of ministers facing fraud charges, Mboya explained that they do not require his reappointment.
"It is not mandatory that he has to go back because it is at the discretion of the principals. Depending on the way the politics play out, it might be another point of contention," said Mboya.
Ruto is a member of the Orange Democratic Movement, the party of Prime Minister Raila Odinga. While the two were once close allies, they have become estranged over the past year.
The split first occurred when Ruto was demoted by the prime minister from his former post at the Ministry of Agriculture for his opposition to Kenya’s proposed constitution, approved last August. Public disagreements quickly morphed into open hostility once Ruto was named as a suspect in the ICC investigation into Kenya’s 2007-2008 post election violence.
The Kenyan government, especially those members loyal to President Mwai Kibaki, were quick to denounce the ICC process and demand local trials. While his position has since softened, Odinga initially refused to withdraw his support for the Hague.
With Odinga legally required to weigh in on Ruto’s reappointment, it appears unlikely the embattled politician will resume his former post.