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Former Kenyan Government Officials Face Corruption Charges

Six officials in Kenya's former and current government have pleaded not guilty to charges of abuse of office in connection with two corrupt procurement deals conducted several years ago.

The six suspects - two of whom were permanent secretaries - are alleged to have been involved from 1999 to 2001 in corrupt contracts between the government and two companies hired to provide security services.

Anglo Leasing and Finance Limited was selected to provide passport security services, despite the fact that the company's bid was much higher than the others. Forensic Laboratories Limited was similarly awarded an allegedly inflated tender to provide special equipment to a branch of the police. Both contracts have since been canceled.

The six are accused of failing to ensure that Anglo Leasing and Finance Limited had the required legal capacity to enter into a contract with the government. They also stand accused of proceeding with the Forensic Laboratories Limited contract without any technical specifications for the project.

Defense lawyer Julius Sunkuli told VOA he thinks the government is using his clients to gain favor with others.

"We will prove in this matter that our clients did not act away from the law, that everything they did was in accordance with the law, that the attorney general did approve every single agreement that they signed," he said. "They are mere scapegoats to try and please the donors that the government is taking some action."

The court appearance follows a cabinet reorganization Monday in which President Mwai Kibaki removed Chris Murungaru as national security minister and re-named him transportation and communications minister. Mr. Kibaki also fired two permanent secretaries in ministries believed to have been involved in crooked deals, and made several other minor changes. Mr. Murungaru is suspected of being involved in several questionable procurement deals that are now under scrutiny of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Committee. Mr. Kibaki promised to have a more open government.

"The public should know about us," he said. "There should be nothing secretive in the management of this nation - absolutely."

The government has been under fire in recent weeks from international aid donors and others, who question the government's commitment and ability to fight corruption.