In a major move to fight graft, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki has named two tribunals to investigate corruption allegations against 23 high-ranking judges. The Kenyan leader has been under mounting pressure to reform the country's judicial system.
The 23 judges named in the probe are some of the most powerful and influential in Kenya. Six of the judges preside in Kenya's Court of Appeals, the highest court in the country. The 17 others are High Court judges.
All of the judges were suspended late Wednesday, shortly after President Kibaki announced he has appointed two panels to investigate allegations the judges engaged in corrupt and unethical practices.
The president's move follows a report, released two weeks ago, that found more than half the judges in Kenya's highest court and nearly half the judges in the High Court are corrupt or guilty of other types of misbehavior.
The report was requested by the president and prepared by a committee led by a respected High Court judge. It says investigators uncovered evidence of judges taking bribes from litigants to decide in their favor, or to delaying rulings. The cost of bribing a judge, the report says, could be as much as $200,000, depending on the judge's seniority and the details of the case.
The judges implicated in the report were subsequently given the option to resign or face an investigation by the new tribunals.
An expert at Nairobi's Institute of Policy Analysis and Research, Preston Chitere, welcomed President Kibaki's decision to reform the judiciary system. Mr. Chitere says the report merely confirmed what most ordinary Kenyans have long suspected but had little power to change.
"I think the judiciary has really let this country down," he said. "It has not performed its role as expected by Kenyans. It has tended to favor certain individuals or certain groups and it is actually the poor who have suffered a lot from the judiciary in this country."
Mr. Kibaki won a landslide victory at the polls last December, vowing to end decades of corruption in the courts, the police, government offices and other parts society that has made Kenya one of the poorest countries in the world.
To win back donor support and international investment, Kenyans have urged the president to make cleaning up the judiciary a priority in his fight against graft.