Running great Kip Keino said Friday that charges against him in a Kenyan Olympic corruption case have been dropped and he has been released.
The honorary IOC member tells The Associated Press that he still needs to appear in court on Tuesday — with speculation that he may now be a witness in the case — but no longer faces charges of corruption and abuse of office relating to the alleged misuse of more than $545,000 around the time of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
“They have dropped the charges against me,” Keino told the AP.
He said he “just left the court” in Nairobi where he had been expected to be charged earlier Friday. The 78-year-old two-time Olympic champion surrendered to police on Thursday.
He had earlier denied wrongdoing in an interview with the AP, saying he had no control over the money prosecutors allege was embezzled and misappropriated.
Keino was one of seven Kenyan Olympic and government officials initially accused of corruption and abuse of office in prosecution documents released last weekend. It threatened the reputation of one of track and field’s most revered figures.
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, with high-ranking political figures charged.
It relates to the alleged embezzlement and misappropriation of more than half a million dollars before and during the Rio Games. Keino was president of the Kenyan Olympic committee from 1999 until last year.
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.
In the phone interview with the AP before he was due in court, Keino denied involvement and appeared to blame the former officials in the government’s sports ministry.
“I was not writing any government checks,” Keino said. “It’s their people who did it. That’s what I know.”
Three former sports ministry officials, including former minister of sport Hassan Wario, were charged with corruption and abuse of office Friday. They denied the charges and were released on $10,000 cash bail each. The three others were charged Monday.
Wario is now Kenya’s ambassador to Austria, while another defendant, his former sports ministry colleague Richard Ekai, was recently appointed ambassador to Russia. Ekai requested his passport back on Monday to present his ambassadorial credentials in Russia. He was denied.
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. The court also denied his request to have his passport released so he could continue his job in Austria.
The judge said the trial will start next month.
John Kariuki, head of the Kenyan police’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations, said they were “reviewing” the possibility that Keino would become a witness.
Keino didn’t address whether he would be a witness or not when confirming he had been released.
In one of the initial accusations against him, prosecutors say Keino gave his son nearly $25,000 and included him in Kenya’s official Rio Games delegation.
Keino, a former policeman, 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 International Olympic Committee’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 people to receive the award.
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