Africa

Kenya's Wetangula steps aside over embassy allegations

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Media captionMoses Wetangula: "I can assure you that my innocence is guaranteed"

Kenya's foreign minister has stepped aside amid a growing scandal involving the alleged misuse of his ministry's funds for several land deals abroad.

Moses Wetangula, who maintains his innocence, made his announcement as MPs were set to vote on his suspension.

A parliamentary report recommended his removal until claims over deals for new embassies were fully investigated.

Mr Wetangula is a key cabinet figure and helped to form the coalition in 2008 that ended the post-poll violence.

The scandal is the latest in a series of high-level corruption allegations involving government officials.

'Haunting and tormenting'

Mr Wetangula told reporters in the capital, Nairobi, that he felt he was being hounded from office.

"I have made a personal decision to step aside as minister of foreign affairs to give room and pleasure to those who have been haunting and tormenting me, and to give room for the investigation," he said.

"I can assure you I will be back to the cabinet once the investigations are completed because I know I am innocent."

According to a parliamentary committee report, Kenya lost $14m (£8.8m) during a land deal in Japan.

The foreign ministry is alleged to have refused an offer of land from the Japanese government in central Tokyo for a new embassy, opting instead for a building further away, against the advice of an estate agency.

Money was also allegedly lost on embassy deals in Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan and Belgium.

Mr Wetangula, who will remain on half salary until the investigation is completed, is the latest high-profile figure to step aside because of corruption allegations.

Last week, Kenya's Higher Education Minister William Ruto was suspended, after a court ruled he must stand trial over corruption allegations.

Speaking at a separate function on Wednesday, President Mwai Kibaki reiterated that his government would not shield corrupt officials.

Donors have long criticised Kenya for failing to tackle corruption.

But correspondents say the passing of a new constitution in August has made it easier for the authorities to fight it.

The new law stipulates that anyone facing criminal charges should stand down from public office.

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