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Corruption Scandal Brewing in Kenya - 2001-11-14

Kenya's biggest opposition party is criticizing the country's High Court for quashing charges of corruption against a cabinet minister. The judges say it is too late to try the official for offenses allegedly committed a decade ago.

In one of Kenya's most high-profile corruption cases, Kipng'eno arap Ng'eny was accused of involvement in a $2 million fraud while head of the now-defunct Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation.

But Tuesday, Kenya's High Court dropped all the charges, ruling that it is unfair to try him for an alleged crime that dates back nine-years. Mr. arap Ng'eny is now Kenya's Water Development Minister.

The ruling dismays many Kenyans. Kiraitu Murungi, the shadow-attorney general for the opposition Democratic Party said the ruling sent a message that you can "loot public resources in this country and nothing is going to happen to you."

Nairobi Institute of Economic Affairs analyst Robert Shaw also expressed dismay at the decision. He says the courts are considering other cases that are far older. "People have got cases in court that are 10, 15 years old anyway," he said. "Some very serious charges and allegations were made against this person. This is a public corporation and I can not believe there is not a way for this case to move on. I think it is incredibly discouraging."

The court ruling is also likely to have repercussions outside Kenya. Many international donors suspended aid to Kenya last year, saying the government had backtracked on its promise to root out corrupt officials.

Mr. Shaw says the country's two most important donors - the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank - are likely to pay particular attention to the decision. "It is a very critical indicator for the IMF and the World Bank to say, well, yes, this may be a court decision, but if there is no other action later, then it will show quite clearly that there is no government will for tackling corruption," said Robert Shaw. "Let us see if there is a follow up. Let us see if the attorney general or anyone else comes up with fresh charges and a fresh case. So I think they will be watching it very carefully."

The case against Mr. arap Ng'eny was brought by the Kenya Anti Corruption Authority. It was shut down last year after the courts declared it unconstitutional.