Former Nairobi Governor Mike Mbuvi Sonko has been barred from setting foot on American soil over what the US State Department termed as “his involvement in significant corruption” .
Also barred from entering the US is his wife Primrose Mwelu Nyamu Mbuvi, daughters Saumu Agnes Mbuvi and Salma Wanjiru Mbuvi and Sonko’s minor child.
The move by the US State Department complicates matters for Sonko, who just lost his bid to suspend his prosecution in the Sh357 million graft case. It is underway at the Anti-Corruption Court in Milimani, Nairobi.
“While in office, Governor Sonko solicited bribes and kickbacks in exchange for awarding government contracts to his associates. His actions undermined the rule of law and the public’s faith in Kenya’s democratic institutions and public processes,” the US said.
It is believed the Sh357 million garbage tender from which anti-graft detectives believe Sonko pocketed millions of shillings in kickbacks was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
The EACC had documented how monies paid to some suppliers of Nairobi City county ended up in Sonko’s bank account
The former governor for years had run-ins with the law. At one point, he escaped from Shimo La Tewa Prison at the Coast under mysterious circumstances.
In a statement on Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sonko’s corruption has been widely reported in the local and international press.
“With this designation, the department reaffirms the need for accountability, transparency and respect for the rule of law in Kenya’s democratic institutions, government processes and the actions of its public officials,” Binken said.
I have not applied for a visa, I have not been in charge giving contracts to my friends and relatives. All these claims are politically motivated because I just announced that I will be on the ballot in August
Sonko joins former Attorney General Amos Wako who has also been barred from entering the US over graft. Wako, the senator for Busia, was barred alongside his wife Flora Ngaira and son Julius.
The US Secretary of State reaffirmed that his country will continue “to use all tools available to combat corruption and promote respect for human rights globally”.
Reacting to the development, Sonko dismissed the US ban as inconsequential and political.
“I have not applied for a visa and I have not been in charge with giving contracts to my friends and relatives. All these claims are politically motivated because I just announced that I will be on the ballot in August,” Sonko told the Star.
He said he was surprised by the news because he had not applied for a visa to travel to the US.
“How can they ban someone who has not applied to go to the US? Former Governor Evans Kidero gave out all the contracts. Why are they singling me out? I have never demanded any kickbacks from anyone,” Sonko said.
He added, “Even after I was charged, I was able to travel to US and even met my American son before I went to the UK for a function. What has changed? This is just a witch-hunt.”
Sonko has maintained that he will only be written off politically if he is rejected by the people and not by a group of individuals who are out to finish him.
Under this authority, designated officials of foreign governments involved in significant corruption and their immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the United States
Sonko had unsuccessfully sought a High Court order suspending further proceedings and hearing of the graft case at Milimani, until his petition accusing the state of violating his right to a fair trial is heard and determined.
The former Nairobi governor is also headed to the Supreme Court to challenge his impeachment after losing in both the High Court and the Court of Appeal.
In its statement, the US explained it had designated Sonko under Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2021.
“Under this authority, designated officials of foreign governments involved in significant corruption and their immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the United States,” it said.
The US said the designations reaffirm its commitment to combatting corruption and supporting the rule of law while strengthening democratic institutions in Kenya.
“We will continue to use all available tools to promote accountability for corrupt actors in this region and globally,”the US government said.
The career of the flamboyant politician started to take a turn for the worse when the anti-graft agency unraveled a money trail that implicated him in a web of corruption.
Sonko allegedly pocketed millions of shillings in kickbacks from a lucrative garbage collection contract that formed the basis of his impeachment by the county assembly in December 2020. It was upheld by the Senate.
He is said to have collaborated with private companies in questionable dealings in which he pocketed Sh39 million through kickbacks from companies doing business with the county government.
A total of Sh27.4 million was allegedly wired into Sonko’s accounts at Equity Bank from three companies that had been awarded multi-million shilling contracts under questionable circumstances.
The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission detectives said some of the firms that won the Sh357 million tender wired millions back to Sonko’s personal bank accounts and to county officials who were part of the deals.
There’s gold in garbage
Detectives established that over five months between October 2018 and March 2019, Hardi Enterprises had received Sh357 million from the county for supposed solid waste collection and disposal
The companies are also alleged to have been awarded the tenders without following due process.
EACC detectives started investigations after they received reports that some Nairobi county officials in collusion with private companies were engaging in fraudulent schemes to embezzle public funds.
The detectives established that over five months between October 2018 and March 2019, Hardi Enterprises had received Sh357 million from the county for supposed solid waste collection and disposal.
EACC said it established that the directors of Hardi Enterprises had two directors who transferred Sh55.8 million to the accounts of another company they owned, Toddy Civil Engineering Company Ltd.
The commission said it established that Toddy Civil Engineering Company Ltd transferred Sh3 million to Sonko’s account at Equity Bank, On December 17, 2018. The commission said it could have been a kickback from the garbage collection contract.
Another analysis of the governor’s bank statements at Kenya Commercial Bank, the EACC said, revealed that prior to the award of contract for garbage collection, he received Sh8.6 million from one of the directors to fund his 2017 campaigns.
Sonko is also alleged to have received Sh17 million from Amaco Ltd, Sh8.4 million from Yiro Enterprises Ltd and Sh2 million from Web Tribe Ltd at a time the companies were conducting business with the county government.
Sonko was impeached in December 2020. The Senate voted overwhelmingly in favour of four charges brought against the governor. They were gross violation of the Constitution, abuse of office, misconduct and crimes against national law. Twenty-seven senators supported the charges, while 16 voted no.
Before his impeachment, Sonko had been at loggerhead with the national government, especially President Uhuru Kenyatta whom he accused of meddling in Nairobi matters.
Uhuru had formed the Nairobi Metropolitan Services headed by the Major General Mohammed Badi to oversee development, health and cleanup of the city.
Sonko and Badi were at odds, with the former governor blaming the national government for his problems.
In a deal signed on February 25, 2020, at State House, Nairobi in the presence of Uhuru, Sonko surrendered the functions of health, transport, public works, utilities and ancillary services and planning and development departments to NMS. At one point he refused to sign the NMS budget.
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