Kenyan Pipeline, Insurance Fund Officials Charged Over Graft

NAIROBI, Dec 10 (Reuters) - A Kenyan court has charged senior officials from the state-run oil pipeline and others from the state health insurance fund for abuse of office and economic crimes that led to the loss of billions of shillings from the two institutions.

Dozens of Kenyan government officials and business people have appeared in court since May on charges relating to the alleged theft of hundreds of millions of shillings from public coffers in a new drive to tackle widespread graft.

Joe Sang, the managing director of Kenya Pipeline Company, and five of his colleagues were charged Monday with abuse of office in connection with the loss of funds in the construction of a fuel jetty in western Kenya worth 1.96 billion shillings ($19 million), a figure that exceeded the original budget.

Geoffrey Mwangi, the chief executive officer of the National Health Insurance Fund, his predecessor and 16 other officials were also charged with abuse of office an irregular award and extension of a contract in which 1.1 billion shillings was lost. They all pleaded not guilty to the charges.

[Related P&GJ story: Kenya Expands Oil Pipeline Network Amid Controversy]

"The charges are generic but not serious," Ahmednasir Abdullahi, lawyer representing the Kenya Pipeline officials, said in court.

"I have instructions to apply for bail and accused should be admitted to reasonable bail terms."

A payments processing company and two of its directors were also charged over receiving the funds that were allegedly lost at the state health insurance fund. They also pleaded not guilty.

President Uhuru Kenyatta pledged to stamp out graft when he was first elected in 2013, but critics say he has been slow to pursue top officials. No high profile convictions have occurred since he took office. ($1 = 102.3000 Kenyan shillings) (Reporting by Humphrey Malalo; Writing by George Obulutsa; editing by David Evans)

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