NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Running great Kip Keino denied wrongdoing in the Kenyan Olympic corruption scandal in an interview with The Associated Press and didn’t appear in court as expected Friday as prosecutors consider dropping charges against him.
Instead, they might make the honorary IOC member a witness over the alleged misuse of more than $545,000 of government money that was meant to fund Kenya’s team at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, a senior police official said.
The 78-year-old Keino was one of seven Kenyan Olympic and government officials initially accused of corruption and abuse of office in a case that threatens the reputation of one of track and field’s most revered figures.
The allegations of corruption also reach the upper levels of the Kenyan government, with high-ranking political figures charged.
It relates to the alleged embezzlement and misappropriation of more than half a million dollars before and during the Rio Games. Keino was president of the Kenyan Olympic committee from 1999 until last year.
Prosecutors say he oversaw a Kenyan Olympic expedition to Rio where more than $300,000 was wasted, some of it spent on joy rides and family members of officials who had nothing to do with the team but were given air tickets and tens of thousands of dollars in allowances.
More than $200,000 simply disappeared and was embezzled, the prosecutors say.
But Keino, a two-time Olympic champion and track and field hall of famer, is the only one of the seven suspects yet to appear in court to be charged.
In an interview with the AP before he was due in court, Keino denied wrongdoing, saying he didn’t have control over any of the government money prosecutors say was embezzled and misappropriated. He appeared to blame the former officials in the government’s sports ministry.
“I was not writing any government checks,” Keino said in the phone interview. “It’s their people who did it. That’s what I know.”
Asked if he had any involvement in the misuse of the money, he replied “it had to do with what those who were in charge.”
Three former sports ministry officials, including former minister of sport Hassan Wario, were charged with corruption and abuse of office Friday. They denied the charges and were released on $10,000 cash bail each. The three others were charged Monday.
Wario is now Kenya’s ambassador to Austria, while another defendant, his former sports ministry colleague Richard Ekai, was recently appointed ambassador to Russia. Ekai requested his passport back on Monday to present his ambassadorial credentials in Russia. He was denied.
Wario, a member of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s cabinet at the time of the alleged offenses, was dressed in a suit and wore a fez-like hat in court as he was charged with six counts relating to the mismanagement of public money. The court also denied his request to have his passport released so he could continue his job in Austria.
The judge said the trial will start next month.
But Keino’s court appearance was delayed for seven days as police and prosecutors decide if he should be used, instead, as a witness after his claim in a statement that he did not sign any documents relating to the misused money.
John Kariuki, head of the Kenyan police’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations, said they were “reviewing” the possibility that Keino would become a witness.
In one of the initial accusations against him, prosecutors say Keino gave his son nearly $25,000 and included him in Kenya’s official Rio Games delegation.
Keino, a former policeman, has iconic status in track and field. He was the forerunner for generations of Kenyan middle- and long-distance champions when he won gold in the 1,500 meters at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and broke the Olympic record despite struggling with illness in the days before the race.
He was also the Olympic champion four years later in Munich in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
His performances inspired countless Kenyan champions and his reputation was enhanced by his humanitarian work in his home country, where he has built schools and a home for orphans. He is probably Kenya’s most respected sportsman, loved for his success but also for his humble origins — poor and orphaned at a young age — that resonate with so many, not just distance-running hopefuls.
Because of that humanitarian work, Keino was the first recipient of the International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Laurel award in 2016 and was honored at the opening ceremony of the Rio Games. Keino and former IOC president Jacques Rogge are the only two people to receive the award.
Current IOC president Thomas Bach said Thursday the body needed more information on the case before it could consider if Keino’s Olympic Laurel should be withdrawn.
By MUTWIRI MUTUOTA
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