Nairobi’s Gold-Loving Governor Is Arrested on Corruption Charges

Nairobi’s Gold-Loving Governor Is Arrested on Corruption Charges

NAIROBI, Kenya — The police in Kenya arrested the flamboyant governor of Nairobi on Friday on charges of abusing his office and misappropriating millions of dollars in government funds, among other charges.

The arrest of Gov. Mike Mbuvi Sonko, who is known for his chunky gold jewelry and impromptu raps, was ordered by the director of public prosecutions, Noordin Haji, who accused Mr. Sonko of “deploying intimidation tactics in addition to using goons to threaten law enforcement officials carrying out constitutional mandates” in investigating the case.

Mr. Haji said at a news conference that “a comprehensive investigation by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission” had found sufficient evidence to prosecute Mr. Sonko on charges including money laundering and unlawful acquisition of public property.

The commission confirmed on Twitter that Mr. Sonko had been detained while trying to escape arrest at a roadblock in Voi, about 200 miles southeast of Nairobi, the capital. The commission said the governor had been transferred back to Nairobi.

Mr. Sonko rebutted the accusations on Friday, calling the commission’s investigation “shallow” and denying that he had tried to evade arrest.

“I want to confidently state from the onset that I am more than ready for the lawful course that will help us know the truth,” he said in a statement on Facebook.

Mr. Sonko, elected in 2017, was serving his first term as governor. He previously was a member of Parliament for the Madaraka constituency in Nairobi starting in 2010, and was elected as a senator of Nairobi County in 2013.

Residents and international investors have long complained of corruption in Kenya, East Africa’s business hub and richest economy. Mr. Sonko has invited scrutiny for his flamboyant lifestyle and flashy fashion.

A controversial figure, the governor has taken to publicly sneering at his perceived detractors and critics. As a lawmaker, he was thrown out of Parliament after he arrived wearing ear studs and sunglasses, saying he represented the younger generation who had elected him. He regularly posts videos of his travels abroad on social media, and has been seen gyrating to a song praising his achievements.

The governor has also shared photos online of his dining room, featuring a gold-plated lion statue and a gold-tinted dining table and chairs.

But over the past two years, Mr. Sonko has come under criticism for mismanaging the city’s affairs. In November, lawmakers from Nairobi County said a “tragedy of untold proportions” was unfolding in the city, with poor public services and unpaid workers and suppliers. They also criticized Mr. Sonko for not appointing a deputy governor since the last one resigned in January 2018.

On Thursday, Mr. Sonko received an award sponsored by the Kenya Red Cross and United Nations Volunteers for encouraging volunteering. He had established the Sonko Rescue Team, a group of youngsters who respond to emergencies, sweep streets and take clean water to poor areas.

Thirteen other people were also listed as suspects in the corruption case announced on Friday, and were asked to present themselves to the nearest police station.

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