The friendship between Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto’s and President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda came under scrutiny in parliament this week, with some Kenyan MPs raising concern about the two leaders’ association with Harun Aydin, a controversial Turkish national deported by the Kenyan government on August 9 over money laundering allegations.
The members of a parliamentary committee probing claims that Dr Ruto helped an unnamed investor to secure a Ksh15 billion ($10 million) loan from Kenya’s Equity Bank to set up a vaccine manufacturing plant in Uganda, suggested that Dr Ruto and President Museveni may have overlooked the Turk’s alleged dirty dealings and related with him as if he were a legitimate investor.
Kenyan parliamentary rules discourage MPs from adversely mentioning Heads of State of friendly countries in debates and the opinions expressed on the committee hearings are unlikely to be escalated to the floor of the House.
The attention some opposition legislators are paying to the Ruto-Museveni friendship is being seen largely in light of their own recent statements alleging that Uganda’s ruling National Resistance Movement was backing Dr Ruto’s presidential bid.
Mr Aydin was reportedly part of Dr Ruto’s delegation that was hosted by President Museveni at State House, Entebbe, during the Kenyan leader’s last private visit to Uganda in July this year.
Equity Bank’s executives appearing before the National Assembly Finance committee, on Tuesday denied the lender had issued the Ksh15 billion loan or had any dealings with Mr Aydin.
The Ugandan vaccine manufacturing plant is being built by Dei Group, a Ugandan company associated with Ugandan tycoon Matthias Magoola.
It was Dr Ruto’s own claims on a radio show on August 3, amid the Aydin saga, that he had called Equity Bank and requested it fund the vaccine plant, that fed speculation in Kenya that the Turk was the unnamed investor.
Dr Ruto also spoke of having accompanied President Museveni as the chief guest during the laying of the foundation stone for the factory in Wakiso, Kampala, on July 6.
The appearance of the Equity Bank executives at the parliamentary committee hearing was the second such probe of the Aydin affair in two weeks.
On August 13, Interior minister Fred Matiang’i appeared before the National Assembly Committee on Administration and Security where he alluded to intelligence shared by a neighbouring country linking Mr Aydin with money laundering and suggested he might have used his closeness to VIP connections to travel in and out of Kenya several times without his passport being stamped by immigration officials at the ports of entry and exit.
The Aydin saga started on August 2 after immigration officials at Nairobi’s Wilson Airport blocked Dr Ruto from flying to Uganda for a private visit, saying he did not have official clearance from the Interior ministry.
Mr Aydin and others in the deputy president’s entourage were allowed to travel, even as security agency leaks sought to link the Turk’s presence to the embarrassing drama in which Kenya’s second in command was stopped from flying out by junior immigration officials.
Anti-terrorism police arrested Mr Aydin upon his return to Nairobi on a private flight on August 8 and detained him, before his deportation to Turkey the next day.
However, the political dust raised by the expulsion of the Turk, who reportedly identified himself as an investor in renewable energy when he applied for a Kenyan work permit, has yet to settle.
With less than 12 months to the next General Election in which Dr Ruto hopes to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta, the Aydin saga and the disputed claims that he secured funding for the Uganda vaccine plant have handed the Deputy President’s rivals more ammunition to attack his anti-corruption and patriotism credentials.
Dr Ruto has defended his business association with Mr Aydin, maintaining that the decision to link the Turkish national to money laundering was part of a scheme to smear and block him [Dr Ruto] from ascending to the presidency.