ICC alarmed at witness death, reveals security was offered
Questions arose over the gruesome killing of Meshack Yebei, a witness in the ongoing International Criminal Court trial, whom Deputy President William Ruto described as his critical man on his list of witnesses in The Hague.
The dust of blame games appeared to rise to the skies over who might have been responsible for the killing of a man who the ICC itself conceded was on the witness list but left its safe house for his home in Turbo.
Yebei was reportedly abducted on December 28 last year and his badly mutilated body was recovered on January 2, with the killing gaining a high profile on Tuesday when Ruto’s lawyer Karim Khan disclosed Yebei”was a critical witness to the Defence”.
However, developments on Wednesday raised more questions about the mysterious death, especially after MPs allied to the ruling Jubilee coalition sought to implicate a civil society activist vocal in support of the ICC and the court’s prosecution in the execution.
“The prime suspect is one Ken Wafula while prime suspect number two is the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) led by one Fatou Bensouda and the ICC,” National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale claimed at a press conference at Parliament Buildings, where he was accompanied by 20 MPs.
Adding to the rising questions was the declaration by Yebei’s family that they weren’t aware that he was Ruto’s defence witness.
“His disappearance triggered suspicions from locals that my brother could possibly have been a key witness in the on-going ICC case against Ruto but prior to the ordeal, he never told us anything about him being either a prosecution or defence witness,” explained the deceased’s brother Ben Yebei.
Yesterday, Wafula reacting to Khan’s statement, insisted that Yebei was never a defence witness and termed Khan’s sentiments as “funny” and claimed it was an act of “cover up”.
“He testified at the Waki Commission and Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNHCR) and was also set to be a key witness at the ICC but after being convinced by other parties, he withdrew his stand,” Wafula revealed at his office in Eldoret during a press conference.
The unfolding events have raised key questions among them being what Yebei was to tell the court that made him ‘critical’ to the Ruto defence team.
And, if the ICC Registry had offered Yebei security measures, including a safe residency in a new location, as the ICC announced on Tuesday, then why did he leave for Eldoret? Khan, too, explained they had referred him to ICC victims and Witness Unit for protection because of “the risk we believed he faced”.
Another question is who is the registered owner of a mobile phone with Ugandan numbers that was used to send a text message to Yebei’s mother to assure her that he was safe during the time he was reported missing.
The message was purportedly signed off by Yebei claiming he was with “Bensouda’s people” but the ICC on Tuesday clarified Yebei “was not on the Prosecution witness list nor was he in contact with Prosecution staff at the time of his abduction”.
There are also questions whether Yebei’s case has any links to the disappearance of another man from the same region who went missing in Kilifi 10 months ago. Jonah Kipngetich Buret, a former Party of National Unity (PNU) activist from Uasin Gishu County, has been missing since March 8, 2014.
Yesterday, Yebei’s relatives said the father of two left for Tanzania using a temporary passport in September last year.
“He did not disclose to me the purpose of the meeting,” explained Lilian Yebei, the deceased’s widow.
“He constantly used to tell me that there were people who have been trailing him but he did not mention who they were. He reported the matter to police last September. I believe that he was killed due to politics and ICC issues,” claimed the widow.
His brother Ben said Yebei, who was a businessman in Eldoret town, had always been in the opposition in local politics since 2002 when he actively campaigned for the Rainbow Coalition.
“He was in Narc in 2002, was in Party of National Unity in 2007 and recently he vied for Tapsagoi Ward on an independent party ticket,” said Ben.
“This is political, see how the police did not care to do investigations even after we camped there writing statements. All they told us was that we be patient as our kin would be back. The police in Eldoret did not even circulate information that there was a missing person, even after we asked them to kindly help trace him,” Ben lamented.
The family spokesman questioned why the Ruto defence had not spoken out while he was missing.
“We expected Khan and his defence team to categorically inform our family that Yebei was their key witness. Why have they come out publicly now after he disappeared, when it has been confirmed that he was murdered?” he wondered.
Yesterday, Jubilee MPs claimed Wafula should be questioned over Yebei’s murder. Wafula had in the past confessed to have prepared witnesses on behalf of the ICC prosecutor.
The legislators claimed they had emails allegedly from Wafula to the ICC touching on the subject of witnesses who included Yebei.
They claimed ICC through its local agents had “procured” witnesses and coached them to fix Ruto but was now in the process of eliminating them. They also alleged that Wafula was using a pseudo name Abubakar when communicating to the ICC with Duale saying they were ready to provide ICT evidence to back their claims.
“You cannot coach Kenyans to fix other Kenyans and now turn back to eliminate them. We are telling these activists that the time of disappearance of people like it happened to the late (minister Robert) Ouko cannot be allowed under the Jubilee government,” he said.
Wafula hit back at his accusers saying he was now being linked to the mysterious murder since he has been following the incident and had critical information on the people responsible. On the pseudo name, Wafula argued Abubakar Jumawas is an activist who ran the Centre Against Torture whom they worked together with on ICC issues.
He told The Standard that he had statements from witnesses of the kidnapping of Yebei and linked two first-time MPs from Rift Valley, an employee of an oil company based in Nairobi but who comes from Eldoret and several Members of County Assembly.
He exonerated Ruto from any involvement in the incident but accused people who he termed as brokers for silencing the witness after they contacted him to withdraw his testimony.