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Kenya: For criminal investigator Kinoti, the hunter becomes the hunted

By Jeff Otieno
Posted on Friday, 17 December 2021 08:18

George Kinoti (rights reserved)

The decision by a high court judge to sentence Kenya’s top crime buster George Maingi Kinoti to jail for contempt was viewed by some quarters as a bold statement against impunity. However, to others, the ruling was dead on arrival and had zero chance of being carried out, so they were unsurprised when the court of appeal gave Kinoti a reprieve.

On 9 December, the Office of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations posted pictures on Twitter of a meeting between George Kinoti and Congolese Police Chief Amuli Dieudonne.

Kinoti – the Director of Criminal Investigations (DCI) – spoke to Dieudonne, who is also the current chairman of the East Africa Police Chiefs Cooperation Organisation.

“During the meeting at the Mazingira Complex (the headquarters of the office of the DCI), the two discussed ways of strengthening the existing information sharing mechanisms that have assisted the two countries in fighting transnational crimes in the region,” the office said.

Façade of normality

However, behind the façade of normality, a crisis was brewing. It stemmed from a high court ruling on 18 November that sentenced Kinoti to four months in prison for contempt. He had disobeyed a court order directing him to return guns belonging to Jimi Wanjigi, a wealthy businessman-cum-politician.

The guns were seized following a raid on Wanjigi’s home in Nairobi in 2017. At the time, the tycoon had fallen out of favor with the governing Jubilee party and shifted loyalty to the opposition party, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).

After the raid, the businessman moved to court seeking orders to compel Kinoti to return his guns, a plea that was granted by Justice Chacha Mwita on 21 June 2019.

Order to return guns

In his ruling, the judge directed the DCI to return a Smith and Wesson pistol, a Glock pistol, a Miniature, and M4CQ assault rifles to Wanjigi.

The only reasonable conclusion in the unique circumstances of this matter is that Mr. George Maingi Kinoti has decided to openly disregard court orders and does not even care to seek any orders of stay. That is very unfortunate and it is the height of impunity.

After months of waiting, Wanjigi returned to court wanting Kinoti to be found to be in contempt and handed a six-month jail sentence. In February this year, the court obliged and ordered Kinoti to comply with the order within 30 days.

In July, however, Kinoti asked the court to hear him in private as he had some information to share. The court agreed to hear the contempt application in September, but Kinoti failed to show up. His lawyer said there was no order requiring him to appear in person.

Surrender to Kamiti Maximum Prison

The no-show seemed to have been the last straw on the camel’s back. Judge Anthony Mrima said Kinoti had been defiant and ordered that he surrender himself to the officer in charge of Kamiti Maximum Security Prison within seven days to start serving his sentence. The judge said should he fail to do so, the Inspector General of Police Hillary Mutyambai must arrest him.

Mrima was not done yet. He said in the event Mutyambai fails to arrest his junior, Kinoti should be arrested immediately the day he leaves office or retires from office.

The judge observed that even when the court required Kinoti to explain why he found it difficult to comply, and perhaps plead for leniency, he defiantly asserted that he was not going to obey.

“The only reasonable conclusion in the unique circumstances of this matter is that Mr. George Maingi Kinoti has decided to openly disregard court orders and does not even care to seek any orders of stay. That is very unfortunate and it is the height of impunity,” Justice Mrima said.

‘Wanjigi not allowed to hold any firearm’

In an affidavit before the court, Kinoti argued that Wanjigi was not allowed to hold any firearm. He claimed that Wanjigi’s license had been revoked in 2018 and that some of the firearms did not belong to the businessman and therefore could not be returned. Other firearms, the DCI added, were not meant for civilians. Kinoti further argued that he is not the custodian of firearms, but the Chief Firearm Licensing Officer is.

Kenya must be governed by the rule of law. The law cannot be for the obedience of the meek and disobedience by the mighty.

However, Justice Mrima maintained that Kinoti’s response indicated he was not going to comply. “In other words, Mr. George Maingi Kinoti stayed put and waited to see what the court will do to him in the face of his outright defiance. That explains why he reiterated his position that he was not going to comply with the orders of the court and the sentencing hearing.”

Almost a month after the court’s decision, Kinoti was still roaming freely, performing his duties as usual. Apart from hosting the Congolese police chief, he even appeared before the National Assembly committee on defence and foreign relations to shed light on the murder of a Kenyan woman by British soldiers in Nanyuki.

Disregard by the ‘high and mighty’

It is not the first time Kinoti and other high and mighty government officials have been found guilty of contempt. In 2018, he and then Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet were found guilty after they failed to obey orders linked to Kenyan-Canadian lawyer Miguna Miguna, who was arrested and forcefully deported.

At the time, Kinoti, through his lawyers, pleaded with the court to suspend the orders, saying he risked being barred from holding public office. Justice Mrima declined the plea by Kinoti, through Attorney General Kihara Kariuki, to suspend the orders.

Justice Mrima has since complained that he was threatened and his house burgled “following orders he issued against an unnamed senior state official”.

“I was further informed that if I do not heed to the warning, I will be dealt with firmly and finally using many other processes at their disposal,” the judge said, insisting that he will not be cowed out of his efforts to defend the constitution.

Kenyans divided over judgment

The judgment has however divided Kenyans. The sentencing was a major topic of debate on traditional and social media. Some insisted that Kinoti had no choice but to present himself at Kamiti Maximum Prison, while others egged him on to stay put, accusing the judiciary of practicing activism.

The issue also turned political with allies of Deputy President William Ruto pushing for his arrest and resignation and those of President Uhuru Kenyatta defending him.

The [court order] is a wakeup call because this country was degenerating into a lawless state where some people decided not to obey court orders.

Law Society of Kenya Chairman Nelson Havi, an ally of Ruto, criticised the Uhuru administration for ‘applying the law selectively’. “Kenya must be governed by the rule of law. The law cannot be for the obedience of the meek and disobedience by the mighty,” said Havi, who recently joined Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance party.

“Kenyans must take it upon themselves to arrest […] George Kinoti and hand him over to Kamiti Maximum Prison. It has to be done as soon as possible,” he said.

Kimilili MP Dismus Barasa, another staunch supporter of Ruto, said Kinoti should have vacated office. “The [court order] is a wakeup call because this country was degenerating into a lawless state where some people decided not to obey court orders.”

‘Kinoti is going nowhere’

However, Jubilee Vice Chairman David Murathe insisted that Kinoti stay put. “I don’t know what the noisy UDA (United Democratic Alliance) hornbills want specifically with George Kinoti. They want a vacuum in the ODCI (Office of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations) so that they can continue looting.”

The debate also sucked in university students through their umbrella body, the Kenya University Students Organisation (KUSO). ‘The comrades’, as they are commonly known, threatened to paralyse operations in all institutions of higher learning if Kinoti is arrested.

KUSO president Anthony Manyara said: “With the confidence he has instilled, Kenyans have offered crucial information that has helped solve high-value cases.”

Lawyer Edwin Sifuna however argued that “court orders are a cornerstone of the rule of law. It does not matter how inconvenient that order is, the responsibility binds all of us under the constitution to obey it first and if you have issues with it there are channels of appeal”.

On 15 December, the Court of Appeal set aside Kinoti’s arrest warrant, while the evidence is considered. The judges have until April 4 to make up their minds.

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