By Katharine Houreld and Duncan Miriri
NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya’s Finance Minister Henry Rotich pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to corruption charges over the award of two dam tenders, a day after his detention in an unprecedented move against a sitting minister in a country notorious for graft.
Rotich and other senior officials are accused of conspiring to defraud the public, among other charges.
Dressed in a suit and tie and standing next to his number two at the ministry, Principal Secretary Kamau Thugge, Rotich denied the charges as they were read out to him by prosecutors before a packed anti-corruption court in Nairobi.
The charges against Rotich stem from a police investigation into the misuse of funds in two dam projects planned for the west of the country, overseen by Italian construction company CMC Di Ravenna.
Kenya will also seek the extradition of Paolo Porcelli, the Italian director of CMC di Ravenna, to face charges, the director of public prosecutions told Reuters on Tuesday.
“We have the Italian individual, he has not managed to present himself so we will be seeking for his extradition to come and face the charges here in Kenya. We will also issue an international arrest warrant,” Noordin Haji said.
CMC di Ravenna has denied any wrongdoing.
In a statement on Monday, the company said it had not been informed of “any official communication from the Kenyan authorities… CMC is certain of the correctness of the work of the company and its representatives, both in Italy and abroad”.
The two dams were budgeted to cost 46 billion shillings (358 million pounds) but the treasury borrowed 63 billion instead, Haji said on Monday, needlessly ratcheting up Kenya’s ballooning public debt, which stands at around 55% of GDP.
(Additional reporting by Humphrey Malalo; Editing by Gareth Jones)