NAIROBI (Reuters) - A Kenyan court on Monday charged the heads of the agency that manages public land and of the state railway with fraud over land allocation for a new $3 billion train line linking the capital with East Africa’s biggest port.
The line between Nairobi and Mombasa, funded by China, is one of the biggest infrastructure projects of President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose government this year embarked on an anti-graft drive.
Mohammed Abdalla Swazuri, chairman of the National Land Commission, Atanas Kariuki Maina, managing director of the Kenya Railways Corporation and 16 other businesspeople and companies pleaded not guilty to the charges. Court documents said fraud had led to loss of public funds amounting to 221.4 million shillings ($2.20 million).
Public prosecutor Noordin Haji ordered the arrests after investigations suggested that officials had siphoned taxpayer money through phoney compensation claims for land used for the railway.
The land and rail bosses appeared before Anti-Corruption Court Chief Magistrate Lawrence Mugambi.
Kenya has been hit this year by a series of scandals related to the alleged theft of hundreds of millions of shillings by officials from government bodies.
Kenya launched the more than $3 billion railway last year. The prosecutor’s office said on Saturday no Chinese companies or individuals were named in the case.
Opposition leaders and Kenyan economists have criticised the railway’s funding for increasing the country’s debt burden, which the International Monetary Fund estimated at between 54-55 percent of economic output (GDP) in the 2017-18 fiscal year.
($1 = 100.6000 Kenyan shillings)
Reporting by Humphrey Malalo; Writing by John Ndiso; Editing by George Obulutsa and Andrew Roche