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US Bans Kenyan Minister for Alleged Graft


A key ally of Kenya's president says U.S. officials have barred him from entering the United States. The ban on Kenya's transportation minister comes three months after British immigration authorities revoked his entry visa, worsening a diplomatic rift between the two countries. The latest incident could also increase tension between the United States and Kenya.

Kenyan transportation minister Chris Murungaru, who is a close friend of Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki, vows he will fight travel bans against him, and challenged American and British authorities to present evidence of his alleged wrongdoings.

He apparently had been planning a trip to the U.S. state of Florida, according to several news agencies.

Mr. Murungaru, eager to portray the travel bans as a blow against Kenya, rather than an issue of personal integrity, told journalists and supporters late Tuesday that he was "a sacrificial lamb used by the British to force the Kenyan government to dance to U.S. and U.K. tunes."

Mr. Murungaru, speaking through his lawyer, says Britain revoked his visa after it lost several lucrative government contracts that had previously gone to British companies.

The British action to ban Mr. Murungaru from the country dominated newspaper headlines in Kenya for weeks and became steady fodder for television and radio talk shows. Many Kenyans perceived the travel ban as yet another example of bullying by their former colonial power, from whom Kenya won their independence in 1963.

Mr. Murugaru's lawyer, Paul Muite, says Britain has now recruited the United States in its battle against Mr. Murugaru.

"I am now in touch with lawyers with Washington. We are waiting for their advice on whether we can institute proceedings in court against the Bush administration," he said. "Chris Murungaru has challenged Britain, [and] is now challenging America, to place on the table to make public the evidence they have. If he is involved in drug trafficking, let them say so [and] let them provide the evidence."

The U.S. Embassy spokesman in Nairobi, Richard Mei, says it is against U.S. policy to discuss details of individual visa applications. But he did have this to say.

"As far as I know, Minister Murungaru has not formally applied for a visa to the United States," he said. "But if he were, or anyone in a similar situation, the U.S. government would have to consider two sections of U.S. law which would deny entry to persons for corruption."

Those two laws include a section of the U.S. immigration act and a proclamation signed by President Bush last year that bans from the United States anyone believed to have benefited from corruption.

Britain has repeatedly blasted the government of President Mwai Kibaki, who was swept into power in a 2002 election after pledging to tackle corruption mismanagement that impoverished the country during the rule of President Daniel Arap Moi.

Far from ending corruption, several prominent members within President Kibaki's administration, including Mr. Murungaru, have been implicated in a series of high-profile scams.

Earlier this year, Mr. Murungaru was shuffled to the transportation ministry after allegations of corruption during his tenure as Kenya's internal security minister, one of the most powerful positions in the government.