In Summary
  • This case illustrates the often unfathomable slow pace of Kenya’s criminal justice processes.

  • The bribery allegations were unravelled in several email exchanges between Smith&Ouzman and Mr Oyombra, during which the Kenyan broker allegedly negotiated facilitation fees and delivered mutually agreed money to public officials.

Millionaire British printing firm owner Nicholas Smith, found guilty in 2015 of bribing Kenyan bureaucrats and tenderpreneurs to win multimillion-shilling contracts, has finally walked out of prison after completing a three-year sentence, but his accomplices in Nairobi are still walking free, thanks to a snail-pace justice system.

Mr Smith, convicted of giving millions of shillings in kickbacks to officials at the then Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) and the Kenya National Examination Council (Knec) in order to win tenders for ballot and exam papers, respectively, became the poster boy for the “Chickengate” scandal that tainted electoral management practices — and the careers of officials — in the country.

SERIOUS CRIMES

The scandal was named Chickengate because, in many of the printing contracts negotiations, the kickbacks were referred to in e-mail exchanges as “chicken”.

Besides serving his three-year term, the Briton paid £93,693 (Sh12 million) in fines and legal bills.

Meanwhile, Kenyan authorities are still struggling to pursue criminal charges against three individuals that the Briton allegedly paid bribes to.

It was not clear whether UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO), which unearthed the scandal, had given the incriminating evidence to Kenyan officials. An SFO official told the Nation that it does not track the status of convicted defendants.

“I will speak to the case team about whether any documents were provided to the Kenyan authorities,” said the source. “However, due to the age of the case, I may not be able to assist.”

During Mr Smith’s trial, closely watched by Kenyan officials, the SFO tabled a 65-page affidavit and hired celebrated lawyer Mark Bryant-Heron as its prosecutor.

Mr Smith’s release came one week after a Milimani chief magistrate’s court heard a criminal case against former Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and IIEC CEO James Oswago, Smith&Ouzman’s local agent Trevy James Oyombra, and his associate Hamida Ali Kibwana.

The trial of Mr Oswago, Mr Oyombra and Ms Kibwana is among several others that are dragging on in Nairobi courts.

CONTRACTS

Shortly after the Britons were found guilty, Kenya received Sh52 million from the UK government in 2017, recovered from the Smiths, indicating that the matter had been concluded. President Uhuru Kenyatta used the money to buy seven ambulances for Laikipia, Wajir, West Pokot, Kitui, Elgeyo-Marakwet and Nairobi counties.

Before Mr Smith’s three Kenyan accomplices were charged, then Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko claimed that the evidence from UK authorities was not sufficient to prove they had received — and, in the case of Mr Oyombra, distributed — hefty bribes to tilt contract awards.

Still, the Chickengate scandal caused a buzz in the UK after Smith&Ouzman became the first corporate entity to be convicted in the country for offering bribes to foreign governments in return for lucrative business contracts.

Mr Smith was convicted in 2015 after being found guilty of paying Kenyan, Ghanian, Mauritanian and Somaliland officials £413,552 (about Sh60 million) to get security printing contracts.

His father, Mr Christopher Smith, received an 18-month suspended sentence, which means he was spared jail time. He, however, was slapped with fines and £79,500 (Sh10.2 million) in legal fees. Both father and son paid their respective fines and fees in full.

Smith&Ouzman was also ordered to pay £2.225 million (Sh287.2million) in fines and legal bills. The firm paid legal bills worth Sh3.2 million and Sh113.6 million in fines. It is paying the balance in instalments.

EVIDENCE

In Kenya, Mr Smith was accused of ferrying Sh66 million to IIEC officials between June 2009 and October 2010, with Mr Oyombra and Ms Hamida playing various middleman roles.

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