Kenya election officials charged over faulty vote count equipment

NAIROBI Wed Oct 30, 2013 9:35am EDT

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NAIROBI (Reuters) - The chief executive of Kenya's electoral commission was charged on Wednesday over a $15 million tender for equipment that was meant to prevent vote fraud during March's presidential election but broke down during the count.

The new technology was aimed at avoiding the violent disputes that led to 1,200 deaths after the election five years ago. Previous votes in Kenya have also been dogged by "ghost" voters, stuffed ballot boxes and rigging at the final tally.

As well as biometrically testing voter identity, it was meant to transmit the number of votes cast to a central tallying center - unlike in the past when votes were ferried manually from polling stations, increasing the chances of tampering.

But the collapse of both parts of the system led to a very slow release of results, stoking speculation the vote had been rigged, and led to a legal unsuccessful legal challenge to President Uhuru Kenyatta's victory.

James Oswago, the CEO of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, and three other officials were accused at Kenya's anti-corruption court of being behind the 1.3 billion shillings ($15.26 million) tender to purchase the equipment.

The accused were charged with four counts of abuse of office and failing to comply with procurement regulations, as well as failing to inspect and confirm that the devices supplied were in good working condition.

Oswago, his deputy Wilson Shollei, the director of finance Edward Karisa and procurement manager Willy Kamanga pleaded not guilty to the charges and were released on bail pending an appearance on November 14.

The failure of system was cited by Kenyatta's rival, Raila Odinga, as one of the grounds for his legal challenge.

While the Supreme Court did confirm Kenyatta's election, it also ordered an investigation into the procurement of the biometric voting and electronic system.

Oswago was arrested on Tuesday by officials from the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission for interrogation.

(Reporting by Humphrey Malalo; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Alison Williams)

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