William Ruto sits in the
courtroom of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague May 14,
2013. REUTERS/Lex van Lieshout/Pool
Saturday, June 29, 2013
Kenya's High Court ordered Deputy President William Ruto on
Friday to surrender a 100-acre farm in the lush Rift Valley and pay
compensation to a farmer who had accused the politician of grabbing the
land during election violence five years ago.
The ruling, seen as a key test of the Kenyan judiciary's
newly won independence, came as Ruto and President Uhuru Kenyatta
prepare to face trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for
crimes against humanity in connection with the post-2007 election
mayhem, in which more than 1,200 people died.
Justice Rose Ougo ordered Ruto to vacate the farm and pay
compensation of 5 million shillings ($58,200) to the rightful owner,
Adrian Muteshi, 70, who had accused Ruto of evicting his farm workers
during the fighting in 2007-08.
A swift and transparent resolution of the land dispute
involving Ruto, filed in late 2010, is seen as a critical test for the
courts, which have been strengthened by a new constitution making them
more independent of the politicians.
Kenyan judges have long been seen as hirelings eager to issue rulings at the whim of the political elite.
Ruto had argued that the land had been legally transferred
from Muteshi to a third party, Dorothy Yator, from whom the deputy
president said he had purchased the land. The judge ruled that Ruto had
acquired the land fraudulently.
"I order the deputy president to pay 5 million shillings to
the farmer as compensation ... I conclusively find that Muteshi is the
owner of the land," Justice Ougo said in her judgement.
"From the evidence before me, it is clear that there were
fraudulent activities in the manner the land was sub-divided and sold,"
Ruto's lawyer Katwa Kigen told Reuters he would appeal.
Muteshi, who said he had fled his land in 2008 at the height of the post-election clashes, welcomed the verdict.
"I am a happy man since the land in question has been given
back to me," he told Reuters outside the court after the verdict, though
he added that the compensation was not enough.
The war crimes trial of Kenyatta and Ruto is due to begin at
the ICC in The Hague on November 12. Both men deny the charges that
they orchestrated the election violence in 2007-08.
Chief Justice Willy Mutunga was appointed in 2011 to reform a legal system seen as corrupt and inefficient.
He has sacked judges found by a tribunal to be corrupt,
encouraged new ones to be independent in their decisions and brought in
measures to hasten the resolution of cases.
($1 = 85.8750 Kenyan shillings) (Writing by James Macharia, editing by Gareth Jones)