The surprise surrender last week of Kenyan lawyer Paul Gicheru to the International Criminal Court has dragged the Hague-based court back into the country’s political arena.
The lawyer was wanted on charges of witness bribery. The ICC became a major campaign issue in the 2013 presidential election.
Mr Gicheru is a politically connected lawyer who has in recent years chaired the boards of two state corporations despite his fugitive status. He has had an ICC warrant of arrest hanging over his head since 2015, for having allegedly paid witnesses to recant their statements in the case against Deputy President William Ruto.
The case — in which DP Ruto was accused of, among other things, masterminding the chilling attack on a church that saw more than 30 people burnt alive — collapsed in 2016.
ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda cited lack of witnesses for weakening the case.
Mr Gicheru successfully fought off his extradition in a local court in 2017 while serving on the government’s procurement review board.
His decision to quietly travel to the Netherlands in the company of his wife and turn himself in to the Dutch authorities has baffled even his advocate in the extradition case, John Khaminwa.
He was due for a pre-trial conference on Friday, November 6, setting the stage for a confirmation hearing in the coming days, which will be followed closely in Kenya.
News of Mr Gicheru’s surrender on Monday elicited speculation in Nairobi that the case against DP Ruto and radio journalist Joshua Sang could be revived.
The two were among six Kenyans, including President Uhuru Kenyatta, who were initially charged with crimes against humanity related to the post-election violence of 2007 and 2008.
The president’s case collapsed in 2015, two years into his first five-year term in office.
Away from the courtroom battles at The Hague, the Kenyan cases became a major political issue after President Kenyatta and DP Ruto closed ranks and rallied their populous ethnic communities behind a coalition to contest the 2013 election.
Their Jubilee coalition won on the back of a campaign that turned the election into a referendum against the ICC and characterised their rivals as stooges of foreign powers.
The coalition morphed into a political party and won the last election in 2017 as well. But it has recently split into two opposing factions after the two leaders fell out over differences related to campaigns to succeed the president in 2022 and the side-lining of the Deputy President in government.
DP Ruto has in the past alleged a conspiracy by what he calls “the Deep State” or a cartel — presumably composed of influential public officials and politicians close to the president — to frustrate his efforts to ascend to the presidency.
The conspirators, he claims, have roped in anti-graft and criminal investigation agencies to issue threats to politicians perceived to be close to him or try to implicate his office in corruption scandals.
In January, he said in a TV interview that he had intelligence about a scheme by some unnamed persons to have the ICC case against him revived.
Although Mr Gicheru’s surrender to the ICC coincided with the scaling down of public political gatherings due to the resurgence of coronavirus infections across the country, it will no doubt become the talking point in political circles again.