Four Kenyans are still languishing in jail in South Sudan after diplomatic efforts to have them released failed.
The families of the four, who were jailed for life for fraud and money laundering, are now appealing to President Uhuru Kenyatta to intervene politically, saying they have exhausted all legal and diplomatic channels.
Boniface Chuma, Ravi Ghaghda, Anthony Keya and Anthony Wazome — together with 12 South Sudanese all former employees of Click Technologies in Juba — were in June jailed for fraudulently acquiring $14 million belonging to the office of President Salva Kiir.
They had been enjoined in a case in which their boss, John Agou, who used to work as a senior security officer in President Kiir’s office, was accused of forging documents bearing the president’s signature to secure financial approvals from the country’s central bank.
The Kenyans’ families say that the legal appeal against the life sentence handed down in June has not been acted upon five months down the line yet a decision was supposed to be delivered in 45 days.
However, the Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs says it has done its best through diplomatic engagement with the South Sudan authorities to have the Kenyans released without being seen to interfere with the jurisdiction of another country.
“We know the limits of jurisdiction and the fact that the case is still in court. However, our first responsibility is to ensure that our people are taken care of and that they are safe,” said Tom Amolo, the Political and Diplomatic Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Tejal Ghaghda, sister of one of the Kenyans, speaking on behalf of the four families, said that they have tried all diplomatic channels without success and that the case has now become political, so it is only the president who can intervene on their behalf.
“Our appeal is to the Government of Kenya because we believe that with the intervention of the state, we can have these citizens returned home. They have already been through severe violations of their fundamental rights and freedoms. They have become collateral victims of a fight between brothers and business rivalry,” said Ms Ghaghda.
She maintained that the Kenyans were not given a fair trial because the reason for their arrest was not explained to them, they were not mentioned during the whole trial, their witnesses threatened, and their lawyer, Kiir Chol, was not allowed to communicate with them before ultimately being forced to abandon the case midway following threats to his life.
Initially, the accused numbered five but Peter Muriuki Nkonge was released in January. Prior to the sentencing, the bail was set at $14 million per person. The Kenyans are currently being held at the National Security Service facility at Juba Main Prison.
Despite earlier maintaining that Kenya could not interfere in the judicial process of another country, Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Amina Mohamed in July told parliament — through Majority Leader, Adel Duale — that the Kenya government had protested to South Sudan about the “unjustified sentences” imposed on the Kenyans.
“The Kenyans have been condemned when there is no evidence adduced in court linking them to the alleged crime. The government is considering a range of diplomatic measures to ensure these Kenyans are freed and come back home,” said Ms Mohamed in her statement to parliament.
The 16 were jailed under the Financial Management and Accountability Act, 2011 and the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Terrorism Act, 2012.