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Pressure mounts on High Court judge to quit Bench

Thursday, November 18th, 2021 00:00 | By
High Court judge Said Chitembwe Photo/PD/file

Mention of the name Said Chitembwe seems to evoke memories of a judge synonymous with controversies, more often related to corruption.

But with luck always appearing to smile on his way, the High Court Judge has stoically fought all his troubles and emerged victorious to save his job.

Last evening, he was fighting the latest allegations revolving around corruption, with the noose tightening around his neck after lawyers called for either his resignation or removal from office. 

Leading the onslaught against Chitembwe was Law Society of Kenya President Nelson Havi, who called on the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to “move fast and investigate the allegations’ raised by former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko with a view to kicking him out.

 “I have examined the exposé by Sonko. The Judiciary took him out of office through subterfuge and he is determined to go down with it if JSC does not act. JSC must initiate the process of removal of the judge on its own, without any further delay. It is so ordered,” Havi wrote on Twitter.

Soon after, the Nairobi LSK Chapter, through chairman Eric Theuri threatened to eject the judge from his chambers if JSC does not expedite investigation into the complaints against him within 14 days.

Logical conclusion

Nairobi lawyers also vowed to henceforth boycott the judge’s court until allegations levelled against him are processed by JSC to its logical conclusion.

LSK chief executive, Mercy Wambua, separately called for speedy determination and conclusion of the complaints against the judge, so as to restore confidence in the Judiciary.

“This requires urgent investigations to be undertaken, before public confidence in the Judiciary is completely eroded. Council acknowledges that judicial authority is derived from the people and judicial officers are expected to adhere to the constitutional values and principles of public service, Chapter Six of our Constitution and the Judicial Service Code of Conduct and Ethics,” stated Wambua.

The lawyers’ body expressed concern that such brazen acts are taking place, and justice seems to be on auction to the highest bidder. The Nairobi Chapter vowed to protect the independence of the Judiciary even if it meant protecting it from its own judges, who are hell bent on using their office to shield themselves from scrutiny.

 On Tuesday, Sonko released a video footage allegedly showing Chitembwe discussing how to compromise a case.

In the amateur video, a man purported to be the judge is seen receiving a bag full of money from a female lawyer for the purpose of defeating justice. 

In the expose, a man alleged to be George Kariuki, and believed to be the Deputy State House Comptroller claims to have been sent by “State House” to convince Chitembwe not to stop Sonko’s impeachment.

First epidose

Sonko had moved to the High Court, presided over by Chitembwe, to stop his impeachment by the Nairobi County Assembly. He, however, lost the case.

 Dubbed “The Rot in the Kenyan Judiciary” the first episode of a five-part series shows the events leading to Sonko’s impeachment and Chitembwe’s alleged involvement in fraudulent dealings in his chambers.

The video leak also captures Chitembwe’s brother, Amana Saidi and also shows the circumstances surrounding the swearing-in of Ann Kananu as Nairobi Governor. According to Nairobi LSK chapter, the expose shows the judge engaging in unbecoming conduct, aimed at influencing the decision of the court.

The lawyers have asked Chitembwe to examine his moral compass and in the event that the allegations made against him are true, then he should do the honourable thing and immediately resign.

“We, further on, call on judges to note that their tenure in office is an honour bestowed upon them by the Kenyan people. They should not dishonour this trust by engaging in acts of self-preservation and abusing their independence by shielding themselves from judicial accountability,” stated Theuri. Yesterday, neither the Judiciary nor State House could comment on the matter.

State House Spokesman Kanze Dena Mararo said she was not aware of the allegations, and could not therefore comment anything.

Formal complaint

But a source in the Judiciary said though they had seen the video by Sonko, they could not act on “hearsay.”

“As far as we are concerned, no formal complaint has been made against the judge apart from what we have seen being spread in the social media. We cannot act on things based on social media hearsay,” said the highly placed source.

Justice Chitembwe’s office also declined to comment. 

Chitembwe is not new to controversies.

In December 2009, Chitembwe and then National Social Security Fund Managing Trustee Rachael Lumbasyo were charged with conspiracy to defraud the National Social Security Fund Sh1.2 billion in a transaction involving sale of land in Nairobi to Delta Resources Company.

They were also accused of having abused their offices between January and March 2008 when Chitembwe was NSSF corporation secretary before he was appointed judge. NSSF had decided to sell five plots between Laico Regency and Kenyatta Avenue to reduce its property portfolio and increase its liquidity. Delta Resources successfully bid for the purchase quoting Sh2.8 billion, which was accepted. It paid 10 per cent of the price and the balance was deposited in an account opened by lawyers for both parties.

They were later released when Nairobi Magistrate Lucy Nyambura acquitted them over insufficient evidence to prove that they were out to defraud NSSF.

A year later, Chitembwe, who was then serving in Kakamega, was arrested in Mombasa by the then Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission to face more charges of fraudulently paying the fund’s Sh8,071,724 to Kipkenda, Lilan and Company Advocates for services that were not adequately rendered in the transaction for the sale of the five plots on Kenyatta Avenue. 

He was later acquitted.

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