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UK journalist blames his deportation on Eurobond probe

A British journalist who was deported from Kenya last Sunday has said he was in the middle of an investigation into the controversial Eurobond transaction.

Jerome Starkey, the Africa Correspondent for the Times of London, one of the world’s most respected newspapers, was held for 24 hours without explanation at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Friday night and then put on a plane to London late on Saturday.

On Saturday, Mr Starkey told the Nation that he was still in the dark about the reasons for his expulsion one week later.

“I am yet to get any coherent explanation for the actions of Kenyan authorities,” Mr Starkey said. “I have spoken to many contacts and gone through my notebooks to see what could possibly have triggered it and the reasons that lead me to believe it was my investigation into the Eurobond are compelling.”   

The journalist said he had e-mailed a contact on December 4 from London to ask him to set up a meeting with a source that may have had information on the international sovereign bond that has been the subject of controversy.

In 2014, Kenya went to the international market, through the Irish Stock Exchange, and successfully floated in various tranches a Sh275 billion Eurobond for infrastructure development.

The spending of the money has since become a political hot potato throughout this year with opposition leader Raila Odinga saying part of the money could have been stashed away abroad and misused by influential individuals in the Jubilee administration.

But the Central Bank of Kenya and the National Treasury have always maintained that the money was received and spent on various projects. Questions, however, remain on the details of the allocations to various projects with the auditor-general yet to give the all-clear on the spending. 

Mr Starkey was barred from entering Kenya after returning from a short trip to London when immigration officials at the airport said there was a “security block” on his passport.

The revelations came as the editor of the Times wrote to President Uhuru Kenyatta condemning Mr Starkey’s deportation as “an attack on the press” and “a matter of grave concern for Britons living in and visiting Kenya”.

“Mr Starkey has worked in Nairobi for more than four years. He is the most recent in a long line of Times correspondents to work in your country stretching back to 1912.

The Times took the decision to invest in Kenya four years ago by relocating our Africa bureau to Nairobi. His summary deportation would suggest to us, and to our many prominent readers, that Kenya is not open to freedom of expression,” wrote Mr John Witherow.

Numerous organisations, including Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists, have condemned Mr Starkey’s deportation. But the Kenyan government remains silent on the issue one week after the journalist was expelled.

MUZZLE PRESS

On Saturday, State House communication chief Manoah Esipisu and Government Spokesman Eric Kiraithe did not respond to the Nation enquiries.

Some Kenyan officials, who spoke in confidence, have attributed the journalist’s expulsion to immigration issues concerning his visa but Mr Starkey said that any suggestion that it was a visa issue was “categorically a lie”.

He said that when his work permit expired on October 1, he had secured an extension on October 4. He left the country on October 7, he said, and returned without a problem on October 10.

In the interview with the Nation, Mr Starkey said he did not know precisely why he had been barred from Kenya and said he had heard “about a dozen theories” including relating to various stories he had worked on to drug trafficking, extra-judicial killings and terrorism.

But he said that in the absence of a credible explanation, his effort to uncover facts and figures about the Eurobond appeared to have been the trigger.

“I am not speaking out of anger but disappointment,” he said. “Kenya has been my home for five years. I loved it there. One of the things Kenya does better than all of its neighbours is journalism.”

He, however, said he had been watching with “serious concern” the way newspapers and journalists have faced pressure from the authorities.

“I recognise that local journalists face far more pressure than I did. The only conclusion I can reach is that I have been made an example of in this continuing effort to muzzle the press,” he said.

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