Former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa David Riitho Gathanju and four former employees of the church have been charged with stealing close to Sh40 million in a case that is now threatening to split the church.
Rev Gathanju, who served as the Moderator between 2009 and 2015, and James Muiruri, Esther Wanjiku, Peter Mwangi and Stephen Kamau have also been charged with another count of conspiring to commit a felony against the church.
Four of the defendants denied the counts before Kiambu Principal Magistrate Stella Atambo on Wednesday.
Mr Muiruri, who was not in court because he was said to be unwell, had his plea deferred to Monday.
According to the charge sheet, on different dates between January 2, 2016, and June 30, 2017, at the church head office in South C, Nairobi, the five, being servants of the PCEA church, jointly with others not before court, stole Sh39.9 million.
The money was the property of the church and had come to their possession by the virtue of their employment.
In the other count, the five were charged with conspiring to commit a felony, namely to steal from the PCEA church, on the same dates and location.
Rev Peter Kania Kariuki has been listed as the complainant for the church which on Wednesday placed a public notice in the local dailies with photos of Mr Muiruri, Ms Wanjiku, Mr Mwangi and Mr Muhoro, indicating that they were no longer working for the church.
Rev Gathanju was represented by retired High Court Judge Robert Mutitu, who is a member of the church, while Ms Wanjiku, Mr Mwangi and Mr Muhoro were represented by Mr Dunstan Omari.
The two lawyers unsuccessfully asked Ms Atambo to defer the case to allow the church to arbitrate, warning that it is likely to split church members and cause irreversible damage.
Mr Mutitu said the matter is already being investigated by an ad-hoc committee of the church following instructions from the church business committee in May and, therefore, they should be allowed to first exhaust all the church conflict resolution mechanisms as is the practice and procedure.
Ms Atambo ordered that the accused be detained until Thursday when she will make a determination on whether they will be freed on bail.