Mandago, three ex-officers face charges over Sh1.1b airlift scam

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Uasin Gishu Senator Jackson Mandago (centre) at Nakuru Police Station. He faces charges over flopped airlift plan that fleeced parents. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Uasin Gishu Senator Jackson Mandago will be arraigned in court on Thursday over the Finland education programme scandal.

Mandago and three other county officials face a raft of charges ranging from conspiracy to defraud, stealing, abuse of office and forgery amounting to over Sh1.1 billion. 

This happened even as President William Ruto directed individuals behind the botched student airlift programme to immediately refund parents whose children failed to secure admissions even after paying fees.

Speaking for the first time on the matter since the scandal captured national attention, the President described the airlift saga shameful and directed cultprits who spearheaded the programme, which ran into headwinds since the beginning of the year, to refund parents amid the ongoing investigations.

Uasin Gishu is President Ruto's home county.

The president was addressing a crowd in Eldoret town, moments after a Nakuru court issued a warrant of arrest against Senator Mandago and three others.

“All the people involved in the Finland airlift programme should pay back the parents’ money even before the ongoing investigations are concluded. We know that investigations are underway, but if there is anyone who stole money paid by parents who wanted their children to advance their education in Finland, should face the law,” Dr Ruto said.

He added: “We will not entertain theft and underhand dealing. People who sold their cows and land should get their money back.”

The president said he would find ways to support students who fell victim to the suspicious scheme to secure scholarships in Kenyan universities soon after the investigations are complete.

On Tuesday, the parents called off a planned demonstration planned for during the Devolution Conference that started in Eldoret on Wednesday.

Mandago, Jackson Maritim, Meshack Rono and Joshua Lelei are expected to face 11 charges today.

Maritim is former Chief Officer of Youth and Sports, Rono, Deputy Director of the County Education Revolving Fund and Trustee, and Lelei a county official.

On Wednesday morning, a court in Nakuru issued warrants of arrest against the four after they failed to turn up in court for plea-taking.

Prosecutor Angeline Chinga informed Senior Principal Magistrate Peter Ndege that Mandago and his co-accused persons had switched off their mobile phones and could not be traced.

“The police have searched for the accused persons in their known places of residence but could not find them. One of the suspects is outside the country,” she said.

Uasin Gishu Senator Jackson Mandago at Nakuru Police Station. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

However, Mandago denied claims that he was untraceable in a social media post and presented himself before the offices of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations at around 4.30pm.

He interrogated for almost an hour, before he was moved to Nakuru Police Station.

The charge sheet indicates the four conspired to steal Sh1.1 billion from KCB Bank in Eldoret between March 1, 2021 and September 12, 2021.

The charge sheet shows the fund in the account was registered under Uasin Gishu Education overseas university fees for students under the county education programme.

Mandago is facing charges of conspiracy and abuse of office charges. The senator allegedly entered into a MoU with various universities in Finland and Canada on behalf of Uasin Gishu government, without approval by the county assembly while he was the governor.

He also arbitrarily misrepresented the county by offering full scholarships to students to study in Finland and Canada.

Mandago also arbitrarily seconded a county staff to the education trust, thereby drawing a salary from the county, and causing prejudice to residents.

Maritim, Rono and Lelei are accused of stealing Sh56.5 million from KCB Eldoret branch. “The accused, jointly with others, stole Sh56,512,300 from an account registered in the name of Uasin Gishu Overseas Education Trust,” read the charge sheet.

Rono will face charges of stealing Sh10.82 million from the bank between June 15, 2021, and September 5, 2022, while Maritim is charged with stealing Sh660,000 between May 4, 2021 and September 12, 2022.

Lelei allegedly stole Sh2.7 million between August 12, 2021, and September 12, 2022 at KCB.

Maritim, Rono and Lelei also face abuse of office charges for falsely misrepresenting to KCB that the overseas education trust account was being opened for the county government on May 21, 2021.

The three are also accused of forging a declaration trust on May 6, 2021, at an unknown place, in respect to Uasin Gishu Overseas Education Trust, with the intent to defraud the fund.

“The three accused persons forged minutes of Uasin Gishu Overseas Education Trust purporting it to be a genuine document in 2021 at unknown places.

The ODDP has lined up at least 180 witnesses to testify in the case.

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