Thursday, October 2, 2008

I was betrayed over Grand Regency sale, says Kimunya

The full extent of the bitterness felt by disgraced former Finance minister Amos Kimunya at his treatment over the sale of the Grand Regency hotel became clear on Tuesday.

He believes he was unfairly sacrificed by Parliament and then abandoned by his Cabinet colleagues during his hour of need, according to a statement in his defence handed to the commission probing the sale. In particular, Kimunya accuses Prime Minister Raila Odinga of betraying him — and he alleges that Lands minister James Orengo acted maliciously by calling a Press conference to blow the whistle on the sale. He said Orengo’s statement gave “the wrong view that the sale was clandestine and tainted with corruption”.

Parliament forced Kimunya to step aside after the circumstances of the sale became known. The hotel was sold to the Libyan government by the Central Bank of Kenya for what some people considered to be a fraction of its value. It was sold so the bank could recover some Sh2.5 billion owed to it by the hotel’s former owners, Kamlesh Pattni and one of his companies.

Kimunya, who stated that the sale was perfectly legal, believes Odinga betrayed him because he had been briefed on the whole transaction yet he did not defend him when Parliament moved a motion of censure against him. “The motion was moved and passed against me in a most unjust and unfair manner and which marked the height of betrayal by the prime minister and my colleagues,” Kimunya said. However, he admitted in his statement that he had directed the Central Bank of Kenya to sell the five-star hotel in the shortest possible time.

Details of his defence to the Commission, chaired by Justice Cockar, are contained in a six-page statement dated July 31, 2008, which he signed and handed to the team. It was received by the commission but was not produced in the open hearings. Kimunya’s lawyers applied that the former minister need not appear because no adverse evidence was brought against him. It was announced on Tuesday that the commission’s mandate had been extended by 30 days to enable them to complete their final report.

Kimunya said in his statement that he had taken up the matter regarding the sale with Odinga on June 30. He had asked him as the coordinator of the Cabinet to deal with the matter and provide the public with the official Government position on the facts. He said the Premier had all the facts regarding the sale of the hotel and had been briefed adequately. He recalled Odinga convening a meeting of the Finance and Administration and Planning committee, of which Kimunya was a member, which considered the matter. At the close of the meeting, his statement says, a group of the lawyers in the committee was asked to analyse the documents and prepare a report for the main committee. “I was later to learn that the ad hoc committee had proceeded to write a report recommending that I step aside, notwithstanding that I was not heard and there was no mention whatsoever of my involvement in the body of their report,” Kimunya stated.

He said the report was later leaked to the media before it was presented to the Cabinet.

Kimunya continued: “I thus lost faith in the impartiality and professionalism of the process and did not attend the next meeting slated for Thursday 3rd July.” During the committee meeting, the Kipipiri MP said Odinga had indicated he saw nothing wrong with the Treasury in the sale of the hotel. And even before Parliament had moved a motion of no confidence in him, the PM had undertaken to address the House to seek adjournment to the next day. This was to enable the Cabinet to discuss the matter and give the official Government position. “He (Odinga) indicated he had spoken to the whips to mobilise members of the House accordingly,” the former minister said.

Kimunya said that before the censure motion, moved by Ikolomani MP Bonny Khalwale, he had briefed his colleagues at a meeting held at the Vice President’s office. “They had promised to contest the motion and deal with all allegations. Sadly, this support was not forthcoming,” he explained. Kimunya said he stepped aside because of his failure to get support from his colleagues in Parliament, plus continued calls for resignation. There were also threats to paralyse Government business in the House.

Since he was aware of the tension building up in the country at a time when Kenya was recovering from post-election violence, Kimunya added he was alive to the threats posed to the new coalition. “Against this backdrop, and given that my conscience was clear as to my involvement in the matter, I consulted H.E the President and sought his approval to allow me to step aside to facilitate an independent and impartial inquiry into all the matters,” he wrote. Kimunya also expressed disappointment with Orengo who blew the whistle on him over the controversial sale. “His statement was false, malicious and defamatory on myself and the Treasury for it sought to project the wrong view that the sale was clandestine and tainted with corruption,” he said.

And he goes on to say that moments before Orengo had blown the whistle on him, he had spent time with him in Parliament where they discussed several issues. The issues included Orengo’s own health but he never told him (Kimunya) what he thought was amiss. Kimunya said he had been briefed of the intention by the CBK to dispose the hotel to realise the Sh2.5 billion owed to them by Mr Kamlesh Pattni and his company Uhuru Highway Development Ltd.

CBK governor Njuguna Ndung’u, according to Kimunya, had made him aware that the Government of Libya was considering to offer the bank $45 million (around Sh2.9 billion).

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