- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2003

NAIROBI, Kenya (Agence France-Presse) Chief Justice Bernard Chunga, under investigation on suspicion of malfeasance during the rule of former President Daniel arap Moi, tendered his resignation two days ago to Mr. Moi's successor, a presidential press statement announced.
"President Mwai Kibaki accepted the resignation of Bernard Chunga as Chief Justice of the Republic of Kenya," the two-paragraph statement said.
Mr. Kibaki thanked Mr. Chunga "for his long public service, having served as chief justice for 3 years and as public officer for 26 years," the statement added.
The president had appointed a tribunal last week to probe charges that Mr. Chunga misused his office as head of the judiciary and as deputy public prosecutor during the Moi government, and particularly to investigate the suspected torture of dissidents opposed to the regime before they were sent to jail or detention without trial on fictitious charges.
Mr. Kibaki replaced Mr. Chunga with Justice Evans Gacheru, the most senior and longest-serving Kenyan High Court and Court of Appeal judge.
It was not immediately known whether Mr. Chunga's resignation would stop the judicial inquiry into his past.
Mr. Chunga's appointment as chief justice in 1999 by Mr. Moi caused a public outcry, because despite having served in the judiciary for four decades and rising to the post of chief prosecutor, he had no degree and had never sat on the bench as a judge.
During its campaign before the Dec. 27 general elections, Mr. Kibaki's National Rainbow Coalition pledged to overhaul the country's trouble-ridden judiciary. Mr. Moi's Kenya African National Union party had ruled the country uninterrupted for 39 years.
In line with this judicial-reform pledge, the new president appointed a judicial commission Monday to investigate the biggest and most complex financial scandal in Kenya's history.
The commission of inquiry, headed by two judges, will re-examine the so-called Goldenberg Affair, which came to light in 1994, in which a Kenyan businessman and three former government officials were accused of defrauding the government of $200 million between October 1992 and July 1993.
The trial of the four, including businessman Kamlesh Pattni who headed a company known as Goldenberg International Ltd., has dragged on for a decade. At the time the scandal broke, Kenya's international currency exchanges were subject to strict controls.
To encourage exports, the government set up a bonus system under which exporters deposited earnings in dollars into the central bank, receiving in exchange the equivalent in Kenyan shillings plus 20 percent.
In the trial, Mr. Pattni was accused of producing phony certificates for sums of dollars brought into the country to pay for gold and diamond jewelry exports though Kenya produces very little gold and no diamonds.
After the review by the two judges, Kenya's attorney general will decide whether to continue with the long-running trial, the Presidential Press Service said.
"This decision was informed by a realization that these cases have been dragging through the courts for years without any apparent increase in the possibility that justice shall be done for the Kenyan people," the statement said.
The commission was "expected to recommend on the prosecution or further criminal investigations against any persons who may have committed offenses," the statement said.
"With this commission, finally the Kenyan people will be able to close one of the most ignominious chapters in the nation's economic history," it added.
Mr. Kibaki, a former opposition leader, and his National Rainbow Coalition party won a landslide victory in the December election on promises to fight corruption and revive Kenya's economy.
Also Tuesday, Home Affairs Minister Moody Awori announced that the president had commuted 195 death sentences to life imprisonment and ordered the release of the other 29 prisoners on death row.
"As you know, the Hanging Act still exists in our statutes, but in the spirit of freedom … President Kibaki signed an order commuting the sentences of 195 death-row prisoners to life imprisonment," Mr. Awori said. "And as we speak, they are being moved from their isolated cells and being distributed to various prisons in the country."
Kenyan law stipulates that those sentenced to death remain in jail until the president orders their hanging or they are released at his pleasure. Mr. Awori said most of the prisoners granted freedom had served more than 20 years in solitary confinement awaiting execution.
"It is the worst form of torture. People are just condemned to a life where they wake up every morning for years, not knowing when they will be hanged," the home affairs minister said.
Kenya has not carried out any hangings since 1987. The last prisoners sent to the gallows were 12 leaders of a failed Aug. 2, 1982, air force coup attempt against the Moi regime.
Also this week, Mr. Kibaki appointed three more assistant ministers, seven weeks after naming his Cabinet, an official statement said.
Danson Buya Mungatana was named junior minister in the Office of Vice President, and Joab Onyango Omino became assistant minister in the Foreign Ministry. Mr. Kibaki also named Alicen Jemaita Chelaite junior minister in the ministry of Gender, Sports, Culture and Social Services. Her appointment brought to seven the number of women with ministerial positions in the Kibaki government.


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