Panic swept the Judiciary yesterday after Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu was arrested and charged with corruption.
The DCJ in the Judiciary is the equivalent of the Deputy President in the Executive.
Police sources said a number of judges and magistrates, together with judiciary officials, are under investigation for suspected corruption. Police were gathering evidence about judges who had taken bribes to influence rulings, including in poll petitions.
“We do not know who’s next,” an anxious High Court judge said.
Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji has already ordered swift investigation into the Judiciary’s alleged loss of funds through various contracts.
Four internal audits revealed possible loss of funds and Chief Registrar of Judiciary Anne Amadi had alerted the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and the Judiciary Ombudsman to investigate.
Yesterday the Star learnt that a completely different set of officers have been detailed to investigate allegations of bribe-taking.
Mwilu was arrested yesterday on suspicion of corruption, failure to pay tax and improper dealings with Imperial bank, now in receivership.
In court, a few tears rolled down her face as she denied all 13 charges before Anti-Corruption Court chief magistrate Lawrence Mugambi and was released on a personal bond of Sh5 million. She is to return to court today. One charge relates to receiving Sh12 million from Imperial Bank.
Mwilu was at the centre of the unprecedented nullification of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s election last year, a decision that Uhuru vowed would be revisited. She kept asking probing questions that often caught lawyers flat-footed.
Yesterday Haji denied that his decision to prosecute the DCJ was influenced by anyone, insisting that his office was independent.
“This decision has not been taken lightly, but it is the right decision under the law,” Haji told a press conference in his office soon after the Mwilu was driven to DCI headquarters for processing.
Mwilu becomes the topmost judge to be arrested and face prosecution. Yesterday Haji termed the evidence against her as “sufficient with a reasonable prospect of conviction”.
The chief prosecutor said there was enough evidence to prove she abused her office to enrich herself while handling the Imperial Bank case while she was a Appeal Court judge.
“She accepted a gift in form of money in circumstances which undermined public confidence in the integrity of her office,” Haji said.
Mwilu is also being accused of obtaining execution of a security belonging to Imperial Bank Limited, now in receivership, by false pretence.
She will also face charges of failing to pay taxes, and conducting herself in disregard of the law.
Mwilu was arrested immediately after she left an official meeting at the Supreme Court, a development expected to shatter her dreams of rising to the office of Chief Justice.
The Judicial Service Commission will now be petitioned for her removal from office, which will begin the process of recruiting a replacement.
DCJ Mwilu is the person who stood in when the CJ was not available and would be the top candidate to succeed him. The CJ is age 67 and will retire at 70 in 2021, a year before the 2022 polls.
Indicating the government’s resolve to fight corruption, DCI chief George Kinoti personally came for the DCJ.
He and Haji arrived at the Supreme Court at 8am and met with CJ Maraga for several hours, informing him of the decision to charge Mwilu.
The two remained at the Supreme Court until 1.30 pm when Mwilu stepped out of a meeting with members of the Judicial Service Commission.
The JSC had been meeting for the past week, conducting interviews for new magistrates, according to sources.
They indicated to the Star that Mwilu left her house at 7am as usual, and headed straight for her office at Supreme Court where she started the JSC meeting. She represents the apex court on the JSC.
After she walked out, she was seen accompanied by her five bodyguards. She then stepped into a waiting car, one in a convoy of four vehicles. Shortly after she was driven off, Kinoti was the last to leave, following closely behind her.
Mwilu was whisked to DCI headquarters along Kiambu Road where a charge sheet was prepared and her fingerprints taken.
It was not clear whether the DCJ was with her lawyer, as journalists who had camped at the Supreme Court building were chased away by police officers guarding her.
Later in court, a battery of lawyers led by Siaya Senator James Orengo, John Khaminwa, Millie Odhiambo and Nelson Havi, showed up in court to defend her.