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Kenyan elite accused of stashing Sh320bn abroad

Kenya’s political elite in the Moi/Kibaki era are accused of stashing more than Sh327.89 billion in offshore bank accounts over a two decade period when the country received billions in donor aid, a World Bank-backed research has claimed.

The study titled “Elite Capture of Foreign Aid: Evidence from Offshore Bank Accounts”, and published in February offers details of how the Kenyan ruling political elite enriched themselves either from the foreign aid or kickbacks from State agencies that received donor funding.

It compared data on aid disbursements from the World Bank with foreign deposits from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), focusing on 22 aid-dependent countries, including Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Jordan topped the ranking among the targeted countries with more than Sh350 billion stashed in offshore bank accounts followed by Kenya.

Ivory Coast was ranked third at Sh128 billion, while the Democratic Republic of Congo was listed as fourth with Sh110 billions of stolen aid money. The study says that these aid payments mirrored a rise in deposits in tax havens such as Switzerland, Luxembourg, Cayman Islands and Singapore whose legal framework emphasises secrecy and asset protection. Other monies were deposited and non-havens such as Germany, France and Sweden, according to the report.

In Kenya, Sh136.2 billion was in bank havens that are secretive and have less regulation, providing a perfect cover to conceal the money trail. The other Sh190.35 billion was in regulated bank accounts. “We document that aid disbursements to the most aid-dependent countries coincide with significant increases in deposits held in offshore financial centres known for bank secrecy and private wealth management. Our estimates suggest a leakage rate of around 7.5 percent for the average highly aid-dependent country,” the authors of the study said.

“We observe a sharp and immediate increase in deposits in the disbursement quarter with no increase in subsequent quarters to the extent political elites divert aid to foreign accounts, either directly or through kickbacks from private sector cronies.” On Wednesday, however, the head of World Bank Kenya office differed with the methodology that the researchers used, arguing that the report was not sanctioned by the multi-lateral lender.

The World Bank Country Director for Kenya, Felipe Jaramillo, said the independent study was conducted by researchers from various institutions, including one from the World Bank. “I had raised some issues with the methodology of the report,” he told a Press briefing on Wednesday.

The study was conducted by Bob Rijkers of the World Bank, Jorgen Juel Andersen of BI Norwegian Business School, and Niels Johannesen of the University of Copenhagen and covered the period between 1990 and 2010. This comes as the European Union prepares to sanction Mauritius, another tax haven for Kenyan elite, over money laundering and terror financing.

The research on ill-gotten wealth will turn the focus on the forensic study by Kroll Associates, which had detailed the plunder of taxpayers’ cash during the Kanu administration.

President Mwai Kibaki hired Kroll Associates in 2003 to track and repatriate funds stashed abroad by business people and top public officials in the Daniel arap Moi era. Whistle-blower site WikiLeaks published parts of the explosive report in the run-up to the 2007 General Election.

The overseas assets include multi-million pound properties in London, New York, and South Africa, as well as a 10,000 hectare ranch in Australia.

Kroll said they were never allowed to finish the assignment, a signal that the US firm managed to track some of the stolen wealth. The UK government had offered to help trace and repatriate stolen funds stashed in Britain.

This article was originally published by BusinessDailyAfrica.


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