Anti-graft watchdog recalls award for Kenya's chief prosecutor

FILE PHOTO: Kenya's Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji speaks during a Reuters interview at his office in Nairobi

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Anti-graft watchdog Transparency International has withdrawn an award it gave Kenya's outgoing chief prosecutor, it said on Friday, accusing him of dropping high profile corruption cases.

The Kenyan chapter of the global watchdog had awarded Noordin Haji its Integrity Award in 2019, saying he had led his office in prosecuting dozens of corruption cases, which was seen as an historic achievement in a country beset by graft.

Haji, who has been nominated by President William Ruto to become head of the spy agency, has dropped charges against several high profile corruption suspects after Ruto took over last September.

Transparency International (TI) Kenya said it had received public petitions against the decision to drop the cases, including those against Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and Aisha Jumwa, who is a cabinet minister.

"These petitions have raised serious allegations regarding the withdrawal of high profile corruption cases, including those for which you were previously recognised, resulting in the loss of public funds," TI Kenya Executive Director Sheila Masinde said in a letter to Haji released on Friday.

Both Gachagua and Jumwa denied any wrongdoing when they were on trial.

The group also raised concerns about six other corruption cases that have been withdrawn by prosecutors, who cited lack of sufficient evidence for the decisions.

Haji, whose nomination to the helm of the country's intelligence service is awaiting parliamentary vetting, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, which he heads, said they had received the letter from TI and acknowledged Masinde's decision.

"In adherence to the principles of fair hearing and due process, we eagerly anticipate an invitation from the board of TI, providing us with the opportunity to present our perspective," it said in response to a request for comment.

"During this interim period, we have discontinued the utilisation of the award and will promptly return it upon the board's determination."

Ruto and his top officials have accused his predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta, of using the war on corruption to target his political opponents.

(This story has been refiled to say that the prosecutor's office will return award if its board determines so, in the 2nd bullet point)

(Reporting by George Obulutsa; Editing by Mark Potter and Kirsten Donovan)