Higher education minister and presidential hopeful William Ruto has been suspended from his post by Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki. The move comes just days after the High Court ruled Ruto would stand trial for his involvement in a major fraud case.
After consultations with Prime Minister Raila Odinga late Tuesday, President Mwai Kibaki has suspended Higher Education Minister William Ruto from his cabinet post.
In a statement issued by the president's office, Mr. Kibaki said the suspension would take immediate effect pending the conclusion of a 2004 fraud case facing the minister. Ruto is connected to a scandal surrounding the 2004 sale of land to the Kenyan Pipeline Company for $3.4 million; he is alleged to have received over $1 million over the course of the transaction.
The president's decision to suspend Ruto came after the Nairobi High Court on Friday rejected the minister's appeal arguing the trial would violate his fundamental rights.
The higher education minister remained defiant in the face of the ruling, despite an avalanche of calls for his resignation.
"The constitution did not change the principal that you are innocent until proved guilty," he said.
But Ruto's confidence failed to impress Kenya's leading politicians. Member of Parliament Martha Karua said Ruto was bound by Kenyan law to resign and called on the president and prime minister to remove him from office.
"Any public officer who is convicted of an economic crime must leave office," said Karua. "We are telling the government, the two principals: lead the way in implementing the new law. Walk the talk."
The Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act written into Kenya's new constitution states that "a public officer who is charged with corruption or economic crime shall be suspended at half pay, with effect from the date of the charge."
The suspension is a major blow to Ruto, who was seen by many as a major contender in Kenya's 2012 presidential election. The case against Ruto could take years to conclude and even if proven innocent, many analysts believe the minister's removal effectively ends his political career.
Ruto is seen as the political leader of Kenya's Kalenjin ethnic group as well as a dominant force in the country's populous Rift Valley region. He was implicated in a report probing the 2007 post-election violence in Kenya which left over 1,300 dead. He is widely believed to be a target of the International Criminal Court investigation into the chaos which will conclude at the end of this year.
The higher education minister is not the only presidential hopeful facing serious corruption charges in Kenya. Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetang'ula will face scrutiny from Kenya's Anti-Corruption Commission for his role in the mismanaged acquisition of property for Kenya's embassy in Japan. The government allegedly lost more than $13 million in the transaction approved by Wetang'ula. A report by Kenya's parliamentary commission on foreign affairs also alleges around $1 million has been unaccounted for in the sale.