May 30, 2018 / 11:29 AM / a year ago

UPDATE 1-Suspects in Kenya public fund theft case to stay in custody until June 4

(Adds Western diplomats’ joint statement)

NAIROBI, May 30 (Reuters) - Kenya’s public prosecutor said on Wednesday 24 civil servants and business people charged with involvement in the theft of nearly $100 million of public funds will stay in custody pending a June 4 hearing on their application for bail.

The suspects, who include the public service ministry’s principal secretary, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to magistrate Douglas Ogoti to charges that relate to theft at the government’s National Youth Service (NYS).‏

“Accused to be remanded in custody until Monday 4th June, 2018 when court will rule on their bail application,” the office of the director of public prosecution said on Twitter.

The NYS is a state agency that trains young people and deploys them to work on projects ranging from construction to traffic control.

It is rare for prosecutors to bring such a large group of public officials to court to answer corruption charges.

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 and ministers.

Chief prosecutor Noordin Mohamed Haji on Monday named 54 people, 40 of them government officials, to face charges including abuse of office and conspiracy to commit an economic crime. Some of those charged remain at large.

The prosecutor’s office also tweeted that it had applied for arrest warrants for suspects who failed to turn up in court on Tuesday, or that they could surrender to the police.

Ambassadors from 18 Western diplomatic missions including the United States, Britain and Canada issued a statement on Wednesday welcoming Tuesday’s indictments and saying they stood “with Kenyans in the fight against corruption”.

The diplomats, noting their governments provide “wide-ranging assistance” to the Kenyan government, praised the investigation into the alleged looting of funds at the NYS and urged the judiciary “to ensure fair trials and justice”.

“Corruption has long undermined Kenya’s prosperity, security and democracy,” the statement said. “It is, quite simply, theft from the Kenyan people.” (Reporting by George Obulutsa Additional reporting by Duncan Miriri Editing by Omar Mohammed and Mark Heinrich)

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