Nairobi governor pleads innocent to graft charges, bail ruling Wednesday

NAIROBI (Reuters) - The governor of Kenya’s capital Nairobi pleaded not guilty in court on Monday to corruption and other economic crimes involving millions of dollars.

Kenyans and investors have long complained of corruption in Kenya, East Africa’s business hub and the region’s richest economy, and President Uhuru Kenyatta has promised to crack down on the problem.

Nairobi Governor Mike Mbuvi Sonko was arrested on Friday and is accused of conspiracy to commit corruption, conflict of interest, failure to comply with laws related to procurement, unlawful acquisition of public property and laundering the proceeds of crime.

A 44-year-old former senator, Sonko is a flamboyant figure, known for his glitzy lifestyle, flashy clothes, chunky gold jewelry and eye-catching hairstyles.

He appeared before anti-corruption chief magistrate Douglas Ogoti on Monday dressed in a designer shirt sequined with a gold teddy bear under a hooded camouflaged jacket.

Chief public prosecutor Noordin Haji has accused Sonko and his associates of the misappropriation of 357 million Kenyan shillings ($3.52 million).

Ogoti said later on Monday that he would rule on Wednesday whether to grant bail to Sonko, other officials and businessmen and women charged alongside him. Ogoti ordered that they remain in custody until then.

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The prosecutor’s office said it had also requested Sonko be barred from accessing his office during the duration of his trial and be denied bail. It said he was a flight risk and was likely to interfere with inquiries and intimidate witnesses.

Police set up barriers on streets around the court and diverted traffic in anticipation of possible trouble after Sonko’s supporters called for protests.

Sonko, a member of Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party, said in a statement on Sunday that his arrest was politically motivated and that he was a law-abiding citizen. He urged his supporters to avoid any actions that “may threaten the peace”.

“What I ask of you, my supporters, is to pray for me. Even all my haters, please pray for me,” read the statement, written partly in English and partly in KiSwahili.

Sonko was represented in court by a high profile team of Kenyan lawyers including Senate Majority leader Kipchumba Murkomen.

Police used tear gas to disperse hundreds of Sonko’s supporters when he was called into the anti-corruption office for questioning in November.

(This story refiles to fix media slug)

Reporting by Humphrey Malalo; Writing by Omar Mohammed; Editing by George Obulutsa and Mark Heinrich