By Richard Munguti
The multi-billion tax evasion case against liquor manufacturer Humphrey Kariuki and others has begun with the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) asserting it will prove over Sh17billion was not remitted by the international business magnate in revenue.
As the hearing commenced on Monday nearly two years after his arraignment, Mr Kariuki said he is "confident that he will be vindicated at the end of it, in the spirit of the highest principles of justice and that his innocence will be established."
He said: "I am pleased that my journey to justice has finally begun and the long-drawn judicial process will soon come to an end."
Mr Kariuki made the remarks after chief magistrate Wendy Michemi dismissed his application through Senior Counsel Kioko Kilukumi and Cecil Miller to bar three KRA prosecutors from conducting the case citing conflict of interests.
Mr Kilukumi and Mr Miller had asked the magistrate to block three gazette KRA prosecutors Sheila Sanga, Irene Muthee and Peter Mwenda from conducting the prosecution due to the multiple roles of the tax body in the matter.
"Mr Kariuki will be prejudiced if KRA prosecutes this case since it is the complainant, the investigator and the prosecutor," Mr Kilukumi submitted.
Mr Kilukumi said the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) through Ms Carol Sigei walked out of the case thus abdicating his prosecutorial roles conferred under Article 157 of the Constitution.
Mr Miller said the multiplicity of the functions of KRA in the litigation compromises justice for all the accused persons.
Other defence counsel Ben Nzakyo, Benjamin Musyoki, Manases Mwangi and Gibson Kimani said the trial will not be fair if the KRA prosecutors are allowed to proceed.
But Ms Sanga opposed the plea to kick them out saying the defence are seeking to obtain a stay through the backdoor.
She said the DPP is constitutionally mandated to appoint Public Officers or any Advocate of the High Court as private prosecutors.
"We are state lawyers attached to KRA and therefore competent to undertake this prosecution," Ms Sanga.
She impressed upon the court to dismiss the objection by the defence as unmeritorious.
In her ruling Ms Michemi said the defence is engaging in sideshows yet the prosecutors are duly appointed by the DPP who has the constitutional mandate to donate his prosecutorial functions to any public officers or qualified lawyers.
"The three prosecutors are duly sworn advocates of the high court employed by the KRA and are therefore competent to undertake the prosecution," Ms Michemi.
Soon after Ms Michemi allowed the three KRA appointed prosecutors to commence the hearing Mr Kilukumi applied to have the charge sheer rejected saying it was not drawn and filed by the DPP's office as required under the law.
"There is no proper charge sheet before court since it has been drawn by the Police and not the office of the DPP as required under ODPP Act," Mr Kilukumi.
But Ms Michemi overruled the objection saying the charge sheet bears the stamp of the office of the DPP and thus "a valid charge sheet."
The trial begun with a former flying squad officer Sergent Willy Chepkonga testifying how they raided the Africa Spirits Limited liquor factory then recovered Ethanol packed in 80 drums which been concealed under 53 bags of maize.
Sgt Chepkonga testified that he and other officers from the defunct squad were instructed by their former boss Musa Yego to proceed to the ASL factory in Thika as a lorry ferrying a contraband had entered the premises.
"We proceeded to ASL Thika and found a production manager Mr Brabu Sevu who led us to where the trailer was parked with its cabin doors open," Mr Chepkonga recalled.
He said Mr Sevu told them the driver and his loader had fled after parking the vehicle.
"We searched in the cabin but did not get any documents in respect of the goods," said he.
Sgt Chepkonga said upon openning the container "bags of maize were just falling."
He said they unloaded the maize until they reached the drums containing ethanol.
"We recovered 80 drums of ethanol and 53 bags of the maize from the lorry," Sgt Chepkonga.
Mr Kariuki is jointly charged alongside ASL, WOW Beverages Limited and its directors Messrs Peter Njenga, Robert Mureithi, Simon Maundu, and Kefa Gakure.
They have denied tax evasion charges against them.
This article originally appeared on Nation News.