Kenya: Gicheru charged with witness tampering in ICC case against Ruto, found dead

By Victor Abuso
Posted on Tuesday, 27 September 2022 16:49

Kenyan lawyer Paul Guicheru at the closing hearing of his trial for "interference" with witnesses at the International Criminal Court, Monday 27 June 2022. © ICC-CPI

Kenyan police are investigating the death of lawyer Paul Gicheru who had been charged by the International Criminal Court with bribing witnesses in the now collapsed case against President William Ruto and journalist Joshua Arap Sang.

Gicheru was accused of running a scheme to corrupt the ICC’s prosecution witnesses in the cases of Ruto and Sang, who faced charges of inciting ethnic violence after the disputed election of 2007.

Gicheru, a lawyer from Eldoret, was found dead inside his house in Nairobi on Monday night.

“The information we have from the family is that he had a meal and went to sleep and never woke [up],” a police officer who did not want to be named, told reporters outside Gicheru’s home.

Gicheru’s son has also been hospitalised after complaining of stomach pains, according to police. An investigation is underway to uncover what killed the lawyer.

Rights groups led by the Kenya Human Rights Commission have urged the authorities to “conduct swift and conclusive investigations” into the death of the lawyer.

“While the full details surrounding this death are still emerging, we remain concerned with the shocking news of the untimely death of Kenyan lawyer Paul Gicheru,”  the statement says.

Interfering with witnesses

Gicheru and lawyer Philip Kipkoech Bett had been accused of bribing and intimidating witnesses to dissuade them from testifying against Ruto and Sang over their alleged role in the post-election violence in 2007-2008, which left 1,100 people dead and 300,000 displaced.

The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Gicheru in March 2015, but the High Court in Nairobi froze it, killing any prospects of Gicheru’s extradition to the Hague.

In November 2020, however, for reasons that were never made clear, Gicheru voluntarily surrendered to the Hague-based court.

He was then formally accused of bribing five witnesses and threatening their safety, but denied the allegations during the opening of his trial in February.

Gicheru was the eighth witness of the ICC, which has yet to publicly issue a public statement on his sudden death.

Before the latest turn of events, trial judge Maria Samba had said the court would deliberate and announce its decision in the Gicheru case at a reasonable time.

In 2016, judges at the ICC dismissed Ruto’s case saying there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him, a decision which ended international efforts to pursue justice for the victims of the post-election violence.

Even so, the ICC had left open the possibility of fresh charges against Ruto and Sang, stating that the case had been hampered by political interference and intimidation of witnesses.

Mysterious deaths over ICC cases

Gicheru’s unexpected death has ignited memories of mysterious deaths of other individuals linked to the ICC cases.

  • A key witness against Ruto, Meshack Yebei, was found dead on 6 January 2015 in a forest in the coastal region after he had been reported missing at the end of December 2014. Following an autopsy, it was found that he had been hit by a blunt object on the head.
  • Another potential witness, John Kituyi, a former journalist was beaten by unknown people and succumbed to his injuries in April 2015 in Eldoret, the hometown of Ruto.

In 2016, veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga claimed that 10 people who had come forward as witnesses in the ICC cases had disappeared.

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