Suspended Kenya minister cleared of graft charges

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Kenya’s suspended cabinet minister William Ruto was cleared of corruption charges by the High Court, removing one of the cases that could have foiled his bid to run for presidency.

Ruto, who was suspended from his higher education portfolio to fight the charges, is also one of six suspects named by the International Criminal Court (ICC) as being behind the bloodshed that followed a disputed December 2007 election.

Ruto, who appeared at the ICC in The Hague last Thursday, has declared his intention to run for the top post in east Africa’s biggest economy in elections due in 2012, Reuters reports.

Ruto declined to answer when reporters asked him if he would accept reappointment to the cabinet.

He said the charges were politically motivated.
“This is a great day for us. We have carried this burden and baggage for the last eight years … The truth has come out,” Ruto told reporters outside the court. “This case was doomed to fail from the word go because it was not about criminal justice it was about political persecution.”

Member of parliament Sammy Mwaita and former President Daniel arap Moi’s aide Joshua Kulei were also acquitted.

The three faced fraud charges relating to the sale of land in the Ngong forest near the capital.
“I find the evidence adduced by the prosecution does not support the charges, and I therefore find they have no prima facie case to be put on their defence,” Nairobi Chief Magistrate Gilbert Mutembei said in his ruling.

ICC CASE LOOMS

The acquittal could give Ruto some respite from his political woes and a possible recall to his cabinet post, which he was stripped of by President Mwai Kibaki.

Ruto has forged a political alliance with Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, who is being backed by Kenya’s powerful political elite to replace Kibaki at elections next year. Ruto has been cast as a running mate, but it is still too early to say whether he will play this role or run on his own.

Ruto and Kenyatta — the most prominent post-election ICC suspects — addressed a rally in the capital on Monday, hours after arriving from The Hague where they made an initial appearance in court and denied any connection with the fighting.

Ruto said he was confident he would be cleared of the other case against him, referring to the ICC accusations. His ethnic group fought Kenyatta’s in the clashes that followed the disputed 2007 polls.

More than 1,200 people were killed and hundreds of thousands uprooted from their homes during the election violence.

The two, backed by Kibaki and his faction of the coalition cabinet, have been trying to have the ICC move the cases to Nairobi in the hope that if the cases are heard locally, the politicians would not be barred from standing in the polls.



Ruto has a date with the ICC pre-trial judges who are due to start hearings in September to confirm whether the six suspects named by the prosecutor have a case to answer. Indictments would most likely rule him out of the presidential race, analysts say.