Nairobi: Kenyan authorities have charged 54 people, mainly civil servants, in an investigation into the theft of nearly $US100 million ($130 million) of public funds, a rare move to hold officials to account for corruption in a nation where it is widespread.
Among the civil servants and businesspeople charged was the head of the National Youth Service, senior accountants at the government agency, and the chief internal auditor at the National Treasury, chief prosecutor Noordin Mohamed Haji told a news conference.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta arrives at Buckingham Palace in London for dinner during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
President Uhuru Kenyatta's pledged to stamp out corruption when he was first elected in 2013, but critics say he has been slow to pursue top officials. No high profile convictions have occurred since he took office.
Haji said 20 of the individuals had been taken into custody. He called on the rest to hand themselves in and said the suspects would be charged in court on Tuesday with crimes including abuse of office.
The government ministry responsible for the National Youth Service and a spokesman for the treasury did not immediatley respond for requests for comment.
The effort by Haji, a former deputy director of Kenya's National Intelligence Service, differs from past graft investigations in that he has said he would examine the role of local banks.
"In phase two of investigations, the director of criminal investigations will focus on additional areas including companies or entities that benefited from the fraudulent payments and banks that were complicit," he said, adding that he will appoint four special prosecutors to assist in the investigation.
He said the investigation by his office and the police had revealed that funds were stolen through fictitious invoices and multiple payments on one supplier invoice.
"Investigations reveal that there was no procurement whatsoever," he said, adding that several bank accounts that the funds were channelled through had been frozen.
The arrests came after more than a week of front-page stories in Kenyan newspapers and numerous hashtags on Twitter.
The case – first reported earlier this month by the newspaper Daily Nation – has touched a nerve, particularly on social media, where some Kenyans are mocking the Kenyatta administration for paying just lip service to corruption.
Government critics say only big-name convictions would break what they call a culture of impunity.
In 2016, the then-head of Kenya's anti-graft agency said the country was losing a third of its state budget – the equivalent of about $US6 billion – to corruption every year.
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