NAIROBI (AFP) – The flashy governor of Nairobi yesterday pleaded not guilty to over 30 charges of money laundering, receiving bribes and conflict of interest in a court appearance held under tight security.
Governor Mike, the latest top official to be hauled in on corruption charges in Kenya, is accused of having benefitted from irregular procurement and payments of USD3.5 million (EUR3.1 million).
He pleaded “not guilty” to all the charges when he was arraigned before anti-corruption court magistrate Douglas Ogoti, in a packed court secured by anti-riot police.
“You knowingly acquired property and money knowing it was the proceeds of crime,” a state prosecutor read out one of the charges, to which Sonko replied, “Not true.”
State prosecutors also read out details from Sonko’s bank accounts and several dates on which money was wired in from contractors who had won tenders at the county.
Sonko spent the weekend in jail after his dramatic arrest in southern Voi saw him scuffle with police before being bundled in a helicopter and flown to Nairobi.
Born Gidion Mike Mbuvi, the governor formally adopted the nickname ‘Sonko’ which is Swahili slang for a rich and flamboyant person.
It was seen as a maverick move when, in 2017, the ruling party chose him as its candidate for Nairobi’s gubernatorial poll.
He was a controversial politician who has spent time in jail – for failing to respect court dates – and has had to deny allegations of illegal activities, including drug trafficking.
He is beloved by poor Kenyans for running his personally branded fire trucks and ambulances to assist people living in the slums.
He is also known for his style mimicking an American rapper, dripping with expensive gold and diamond jewellery, and on occasion, golden shoes. He recently drew criticism for displaying his opulent dining room on social media. He also has a fleet of gold-coloured cars.
Kenya has for decades battled the scourge of corruption, and President Uhuru Kenyatta – like many presidents before him – has vowed to combat graft.
Dozens of top executives and government officials have been charged since Kenyatta’s 2017 re-election, including sitting Finance Minister Henry Rotich who was charged over a multi-million dollar corruption scandal.