The proposed inclusion of Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) in the Kenyan criminal law would greatly bolster the fight against corruption.
The order was recently enacted into law by the United Kingdom as part of the Criminal Finances Act. That was necessitated by the rise of money laundering and organised crime.
It has also come in handy in stopping corrupt politicians from embezzling funds from their countries and stashing them in the UK. Other legal jurisdictions have had similar orders but mainly confined to those suspected of trafficking and trading in illegal drugs.
UWO has claimed the scalp of the wife of the former chairman of the State-owned International Bank of Azerbaijan, who had been on a spending spree in London since moving to the British capital recently. Her husband is, meanwhile, serving a jail term for embezzlement of funds in Azerbaijan.
It is also making Russian oligarchs and corrupt African leaders who made Western Europe a haven for their ill-gotten money quake in their boots. The latest to come into the spotlight as a result of UWO is the Russian billionaire owner of Chelsea Football Club, Roman Abramovich.
UWO has far-reaching consequences for anyone suspected of having obtained wealth using illegal means. It will not only be useful in fighting corruption, but also tackle criminal elements that have flooded Kenya with illegal drugs and counterfeit and substandard goods. It will strengthen the powers of the police and prosecution agents to question anyone deemed to live beyond their means.
Money laundering has become a big challenge globally and there is a need to tighten our criminal justice system. Global terrorism is also said to be funded through money laundered from the proceeds of illicit trade. It is important, therefore, to initiate such moves to counter threats to national security.
However, the order would, obviously, thrive in an atmosphere of respect for the rule of law and within strong pillars of governance.
I back the suggestions to set up the template of a National Crimes Agency in Kenya, similar to the UK one. But given the litany of administrative and funding challenges in our criminal justice system, the NCA may be a tall order for now. We need to wait and see if the current efforts by the agencies fighting graft, will pay off.
There has been a lot of splash made through numerous arrests and we will be satisfied once we not only see heads roll (even literally) but their owners locked up. There can be no better deterrent than corruption suspects being sent to jail to serve terms for economic crimes. This will send a strong message that corruption, like any other crime, does not pay. Otherwise, the arrests being made now will be a charade.
UWO is complemented by Interim Freezing Orders, which can be applied simultaneously. IFOs will have a much bigger impact than the current rule in Kenya — of prosecution teams having to wait six months before applying to freeze a suspect’s assets. An IFO would help to stop suspects from interfering with the assets in question and make the work of investigators much easier.
But cartels, in typical Kenyan fashion, will try to be a step ahead and will do anything to hinder UWO. In this regard, they would frustrate the operations of the security agents if they have wriggle room to bribe their way out of trouble.
The only way to counter them is through sufficient funding to sustain the work of the prosecution and enforcement agents beyond the borders. UWO in the UK is, literally, borderless.
Again, it will be self-defeating to expect UWO to succeed in the hands of underpaid security and judicial officials, in particular. “Why pay a lawyer when you can bribe a judge”, is a statement that has been banded around in Kenya and it is spine- chilling in the face of serious and organised crime.
UWO will show that we are serious about tackling crime and ready to complement other countries’ efforts to stem embezzlement of funds in Africa and fight organised crime.
During one of those male-dominated political TV show panels, I heard a county governor say that “corruption is not a crime; it is a different type of crime” regarding the now-common Friday arrests of high-profile corruption suspects. He meant the arrests ought to be done differently if they involve state officers.
Corruption is a crime under the Economic Crimes Act and the status of the suspect is immaterial. It is time we decreed suspending or stopping corrupt state officials from work until their cases come to full and final conclusion. Keeping them away from the crime scene (read office) will stop them from tampering with crucial evidence and intimidating witnesses.