The controversy surrounding the death of slain ICC witness Meshak Yebei has taken a new twist after police established the body was not his. CID officer John Kariuki says fingerprints examined show the body belongs to one Yusuf Ali. A joint DNA test with the two families will be conducted to establish the correct kin before the body is released for burial.
Kenyan prosecutors have ordered an investigation into the murder of a witness in the International Criminal Court trial of Kenyan Vice President William Ruto, who is accused of masterminding post-election killings in 2007.
Meshack Yebei, described by Ruto’s lawyer as a “critical” witness for the politician’s defence case, was found dead — and badly mutilated according to some reports — on January 4 in western Kenya’s Nandi district.
Kenya’s Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko ordered the probe in a letter to police seen by AFP. The order calls for a “speedy and thorough investigation to be conducted into the murder with a view of bringing those responsible to justice.”
Yebei disappeared on December 28 and a week later the local businessman’s decomposed body was discovered in a river.
Ruto has been on trial at The Hague-based ICC since September 2013 on charges of organising post-election violence in the east African country in 2007-2008. More than 1,200 people died and 600,000 were displaced in the chaos.
But both Ruto and co-defendant Joshua Arap Sang, a radio presenter, have denied all charges.
Ruto’s lawyer, Karim Khan, said in a letter seen by AFP that Yebei was a “critical witness to the defence” and had been referred to the ICC witness protection unit.
He added that “news of his apparent abduction and murder is both shocking to us and a matter of grave concern.”
Khan also called for DNA tests to confirm the identity of the corpse, saying it was “important for us that the facts and circumstances of his alleged killing be fully investigated.”
Kenya’s ICC investigations have been littered with allegations of witness intimidation, bribery and false testimony.
Charges against President Uhuru Kenyatta were dropped last month after the ICC prosecutor was ordered to strengthen or abandon the case.
Kenyatta maintained his innocence throughout and reacted by saying his conscience was “absolutely clear” regarding the post-election killings, the worst in Kenya’s history since winning independence from Britain in 1963.
The ICC witness kidnapped last week has been found murdered and his eyes gouged out, tounge cut off, genitals chopped off and shot in the head. The bizarre ritual style killing has left his Turbo village in shock and mourning.
The body of Meshack Yebei, 34, bore other marks of barbaric torture – his ears were chopped off and his head had deep knife or machete wounds.
Yebei’s mutiliated and burnt body was retrieved on Saturday from the River Yala bridge by police in Nandi county. The bridge is about 15km Southwest of Kapsabet town.
On Wednesday last week, the Star exclusively reported how Yebei was dramatically abducted by people who later pretended to be ICC investigators in SMS messages to his mother and a friend.
The family says he was kidnapped near his home in Uasin Gishu county on Sunday December 28th and driven away by unidentified people who had two black cars. Witnesses said he was abducted at Turbo Market, about 35km North of Eldoret along the Eldoret-Webuye road and bundled into a car as soon as he left a shop.
The man had reportedly expressed fears for his life after what he called “differing with some people” over the ICC cases. “He had even informed the police after some strange people went to his home looking for him,” said a brother who declined to disclose his identity.
Sources said that the man was initially a prosecution witness. However, Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi said the man was about to testify for the defence.
“He was our witness and we want police to investigate what happened. We want to know the truth,” said Sudi. Yesterday, Nandi North Criminal Investigations Officer Samson Thoya confirmed the decomposing body had multiple deep cuts.
The CID boss added that police at the neighbouring Chepsonoi police station were informed of the remains by people who were fetching water and that the body had been trapped in-between two rocks.
“As far as we are concerned, we are investigating a case of homicide, and we are trying to piece together if there could have been anyone who witnessed either the killing or those who may have tossed the body into the river,” Thoya said.
The body was taken to the Kapsabet Referral Hospital mortuary, pending investigation and possible identification as the fingers were said to have been interfered with, police said.
A team of detectives visited the mortuary in Kapsabet town to start investigations. Family members who visited the morgue confirmed that the body was that of their relative.
“We have little to say now, but will issue a comprehensive report,” said Joseph Mutai, a relative. His wife Lilian said they were shocked by the death.
Villagers at Yebei’s home expressed anger over the killing and demanded an explanation from the government. “He had expressed fears for his wife and even recorded a statement at the Eldoret police station,” a devastated Lilian said.
Five relatives recorded statements with the police after the man went missing. On the day of his abduction, Yebei had gone to buy water for his sick child at the market centre.
“He had taken his child to hospital at Turbo together with his wife, but, while at the hospital, the child began vomiting, and he decided to go buy water at the market at about midday, but he never returned,” said his elder brother.
After the abduction, a text message from an unfamiliar number was sent to the witness’s mother and a friend, giving the impression that he was in Uganda with a team from the ICC.
The message was written in Kalenjin: abwati ale ichamegei, kwawe uganda urgently. kimi ak ngamotik cheb bensouda nekile patrick ak lugusa. ami komie, mosich wasiwasi. meshack ako namba nenyu ni (I hope you are okay, I went to Uganda urgently. I am with Bensouda’s people Patrick and Lugusa. This is Meshack, I am alright don’t worry and this is my number’.
The number was 256-773125351.
– The Star