NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kip Keino’s reputation has been damaged unfairly in the Kenyan Olympic corruption scandal, his lawyer said Friday as he pushes for charges against the running great to be dropped.
Lawyer Cecil Miller said he “very much” believes that the charges will be dropped and Keino will instead become a witness in the case against six other Olympic and government officials charged with the misappropriation of more than $545,000 meant to fund Kenya’s team at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
The 78-year-old Keino, Kenya’s Olympic committee head at the time, said earlier Friday that the charges against him had been dropped. But that wasn’t accurate, his lawyer said. The two still must meet with investigators on Tuesday to put forward Keino’s defense that he had no authority over the money prosecutors allege was embezzled and misappropriated, Miller said.
Keino was one of seven current and former officials initially accused in prosecution documents released last weekend. It threatened the reputation of one of track and field’s most revered figures. He is the only one of the seven not to appear in court and be formally charged in front of a judge.
Keino, a two-time Olympic champion and honorary IOC member, also denied involvement in any wrongdoing in a phone interview with The Associated Press and appeared to blame the former government officials in the sports ministry.
“I was not writing any government checks,” Keino said. “It’s their people who did it. That’s what I know.”
John Kariuki, head of the Kenyan police’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations, said they were “reviewing” the possibility that Keino would become a witness.
In one of the accusations against him, prosecutors said Keino gave his son nearly $25,000 and included him in Kenya’s official Rio Games delegation. Keino’s lawyer Miller disputed that and said Keino’s son, Ian, had never received any money. Instead, Keino’s and his son’s trips to the Olympics were paid for by the International Olympic Committee.
The disappearance of that $25,000 was an example of the “stealing” and “pilfering” by others and their attempted cover-ups, Miller said.
The six others, including Kenya’s former sports minister and the current secretary general of the country’s Olympic committee, have all been charged and face trial next month. The allegations of corruption reach the upper levels of the Kenyan government as well as the Olympic committee, with high-ranking political figures among those charged with the embezzlement and misappropriation of the more than half a million dollars before and during the Rio Games.
Three former sports ministry officials, including former minister of sport Hassan Wario, were charged Friday. They denied the charges and were released on $10,000 cash bail each. The three others were charged Monday.
Wario, a member of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s cabinet at the time of the alleged offenses, was dressed in a suit and wore a fez-like hat in court as he was charged with six counts relating to the mismanagement of public money. Wario is now Kenya’s ambassador to Austria and the court denied his request to have his passport released so he could continue his job in Austria.
Another defendant, Wario’s former sports ministry colleague Richard Ekai, was recently appointed ambassador to Russia. Ekai requested his passport back to present his ambassadorial credentials in Russia. He was also denied.
Prosecutors had said Keino oversaw a Kenyan Olympic expedition to Rio where more than $300,000 was wasted, some of it spent on joy rides and family members of officials who had nothing to do with the team but were given air tickets and tens of thousands of dollars in allowances.
More than $200,000 simply disappeared and was embezzled, the prosecutors say.
A former policeman, Keino was the forerunner for generations of Kenyan middle- and long-distance champions when he won gold in the 1,500 meters at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. He broke the Olympic record despite struggling with illness in the days before the race.
He was also the Olympic champion four years later in Munich in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
His performances inspired countless Kenyan champions and his reputation was enhanced by his humanitarian work in his home country, where he has built schools and a home for orphans. He is probably Kenya’s most respected sportsman, loved for his success but also for his humble origins — poor and orphaned at a young age — that resonate with so many, not just distance-running hopefuls.
Because of that humanitarian work, Keino was the first recipient of the IOC’s Olympic Laurel award in 2016 and was honored at the opening ceremony of the Rio Games. Keino and former IOC president Jacques Rogge are the only two to receive the award.
Imray reported from Somerset West, South Africa.
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