The rise and fall of Nock bosses from Rio sunshine to court
When they were receiving red carpet treatment, enjoying summer sunshine while rolling in the trappings of power and privileges entitled to them as Team Kenya bosses during the August Rio 2016 Olympics in Brazil, nothing prepared Stephen arap Soi, Francis Kinyili Paul and Pius Ochieng for what was to befall them when they returned home in disgrace.
On Wednesday, the State finally levelled charges and put the high-ranking National Olympics Committee-Kenya (Nock) officials to their defences following the scandal christened Fiasco in Rio that shocked a nation, exposing the staggering scale of alleged theft of millions as well as kit from sponsors Nike.
From riding in stretch limos and sleeping in kingly accommodation, the trio sat on the cold hard benches of Nairobi’s Milimani Law Courts before standing just outside the dock as the prosecution led by Duncan Ondimu spelt out charges against them which if proven beyond reasonable shadow of doubt, could see then thrown into jail like common criminals.
This is in sharp contrast to the heroic reception and acclaim they dreamed of after Kenya returned her best ever Olympics performance, winning six gold, six silver and a bronze.
When the Chief Magistrate, Daniel Ogembo arrived at Courtroom Number Four at around 9:30am local time (+3GMT), all mumbling hushed down and pin drop silence took over.
The moment when a nation would to discover the nature of charges preferred against the officials after a month of investigations led by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations had finally arrived.
Soi, who was Team Kenya Head of Mission, stood pensively with barely any expression on his bespectacled face, resplendent in a green plain suit as five charges related to theft of over Ksh25m in total from the Ministry of Sport, Nock and Athletics Kenya as well as ferrying over Ksh23m in cash without disclosure were read out.
His co-accused, Secretary General Paul and First Vice-Chairman Ochieng who were also dressed in sharp dark suits, were jointly charged with theft of Nike kit as family, relatives and friends who had thronged the court tuned in stunned.
Members of the fourth estate squeezed inside the court room within the witness box as they jostled for strategic positions to document a trial that is simply the biggest domestic sporting scandal in ages.
Nock Treasurer; Fridah Shiroya who was acquitted of all allegations facing her related to the fiasco on Tuesday afternoon, was also present and looking jovial a day after the State opted to use her as a witness against her colleagues.
Quite what was going through the minds of Soi, Paul and Ochieng on the sight of the lady who could potentially hasten their flight to prison remains a mystery.
When the court got into session, the first file to be read out by the clerk was of the three Nock officials who obediently, like school children trooping to face their head teacher, snaked their way to the front, barely jostling with the crowd.
Paul and Ochieng went first before Soi established he had the biggest case to answer when five counts were read against him and as expected, they all pleaded not guilty.
They patiently followed the proceedings as their crack lawyers tried to convince the Chief Magistrate to release their passports and assuring the court that they were not a flight risk and will be present dutifully as directed.
Later outside the courtroom, Bosek Kiptanui who was representing Soi took exception with how his client was being treated by the State since he was arrested upon touch down from Brazil in late August.
However, he was happy the trio were allowed by the judge to access their offices as Ogembo declined to release their passports.
“The Chief Magistrate has released my client and two other co-accused and that is very reasonable. We have the charge sheet and it’s up to us to burn the midnight oil, but I must tell you so many things have been said about arap Soi that is why I did not hesitate to say that my client has been more sinned than he has sinned.
“This comes after he had a successful mission in Rio. Instead of being received as a hero they had organized another reception for him. We are going to fight hard like rattled lions until we get justice,” Bosek charged.
After the hearing Ochieng was relieved to have gotten away with a ‘lesser’ charge and did not wait to disappear from the court’s precincts alongside Paul as Soi’s attorney admonished the perception peddled against his client that he was the face of Fiasco in Rio.
The mention of the charges capped a whirlwind month for the Nock officials who are all free on a Ksh200,000 bond and surelity of similar amount each in a probe that has also involved the country’s National Assembly and in the latter day, the court of public opinion on social media.
Besides fighting to clear their names in the corridors of justice in cases that will be heard next on October 24, Soi, Paul and Ochieng also face a fierce battle to retain their officers in elections ordered by the International Olympics Committee under a new constitution that could sweep them out of their plum posts.
Internal opposition against their continued service in Nock among affiliated member federations has exploded into an open revolt that could sweep them out of power.
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