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Africa

Will leaked Panama Papers rock Kenya’s judiciary?

media The sign outside the building where Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca is based, Panama City, 4 April 2016. AFP Photo/Rodrigo Arangua

The revelations in the leaked Panama Papers about Kenya’s Deputy Chief Justice Kalpana Rawal and her involvement in four offshore companies could lead to an investigation, according to the head of Law Society of Kenya. But a possible probe into one of Kenya’s top judges depends on evidence of an offshore bank account and whether Rawal declared her interest in the offshore entities.

“Questions will be asked, no doubt,” said Isaac Okero, president, Law Society of Kenya. “The judge would have had to prepare declarations for the purposes of the Public Officers Ethics Act.

“The relevant authorities would be looking at it, to determine whether those declarations were comprehensive or whether they were deficient,” Okero told RFI in a telephone interview.

The revelations published by Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper point to involvement in four companies registered by Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca in the British Virgin Islands (BVI).

However, it is impossible for the Kenyan general public to know whether Rawal correctly declared her interests since politicians’ interests are not published.

“The system by which public officers are required to make declarations needs to be looked at again. It’s pointless for declarations to be made and then the contents of those declarations are not available for public scrutiny,” Okero said.

The other issue is whether Rawal was linked to offshore bank accounts connected to the offshore companies. State officers in Kenya are forbidden from holding an offshore account, unless instructed by an act of parliament, according to article 76 of the country’s constitution.

"There is nothing that we have seen so far to confirm that the judge's involvement with these offshore companies indicate the operation of a bank account,” said the head of the Law Society of Kenya.

If Rawal was linked to an offshore bank account it would be a violation of the constitution and would result in an investigation initiated by Kenya’s Chief Justice, according to Okero.

Rawal and her husband operated offshore companies to carry out the buying, selling and leasing of real estate, according to the Daily Nation report.

She was listed as a director of two offshore companies after her appointment to Kenya’s judiciary in 2000 and later resigned in 2007, said the report, which formed part of an investigation by the African Network of Centers for Investigative Reporting.

The operation of offshore companies is not itself illegal and in a statement Rawal said that she had respected the law.

“The real estate business, primarily run by her sons in the UK, has been and remains compliant with British and international law. The use of BVI companies is a perfectly legal and legitimate corporate practice in the UK,” said her official statement, as cited by the Daily Nation.

Rawal had never been “a beneficiary of any monies from any of the said companies”, the statement added.

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