• Senior counsel Gibson Kuria withdrew after Kiambu senior principal magistrate Stella Atambo rejected his application.
• Former moderator Gathanju is charged alongside former employees James Muiruri and Peter Mwangi.
The PCEA Church has suffered a major blow after its lawyers withdrew from the Sh50.9 million theft case it filed against its former moderator David Gathanju and two former employees.
Mr Gathanju is charged alongside former church employees James Muiruri and Peter Mwangi. He served as the highest-ranking official of the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa between 2009 and 2015.
Muiruri is a former finance officer, while Mwangi is a former communications director. They have been charged that between January 2, 2016, and June 30, 2017, at PCEA headquarters on Nairobi's South C Estate, they conspired to steal from the church.
In a second count, they have been accused of stealing Sh50.9 million, which came into their possession by virtue of their employment. The three had denied wrongdoing and are out on Sh1 million bond each.
Senior counsel Gibson Kuria, who represented the church — the complainant, recused himself from the case on Wednesday when the matter came up for hearing before Kiambu senior principal magistrate Stella Atambo.
Other lawyers who represented the church, including Kimamo Muchiri and Henry Leparmarai, have also withdrawn.
Lawyer Duncan Ndung’u who held brief for Kuria said he decided to withdraw his services after the court declined to grant his applications to adjourn the matter on July 2, 2019, and February 4, 2020.
"I am instructed [by Kuria] that he ceases to act as the counsel for the victims. He won’t discharge his services in the court," Ndung’u said.
Kuria had unsuccessfully applied for adjournment when the case came up for hearing on July 2 last year. He had cited ill health for the decision. He indicated that he was indisposed, hence sought time to recuperate before he could resume.
Again on February 4, 2020, Kuria pleaded with the court to adjourn the case to allow him access and familiarise with the case proceedings, having been on sick leave from July 2019. But Atambo overruled his application to have the matter adjourned saying delays occasioned by the adjournments amounted to taking the court for granted.
She noted that the case had failed to take off for the last two years because of diverse reasons brought before the court by the prosecution and the complainant’s counsel. Atambo directed Kuria to get proceedings between February 4 and 6 at the registry and prepare for hearing of the case.
After Kuria’s withdrawal, the prosecution, led by state counsel Donnex Ongira, applied for an adjournment to give the complainant (PCEA members represented by the current secretary general Peter Kania) time to get legal representation.
Ongira added that it is their right to be accorded a chance to re-examine Jane Mwihaki (the church accountant) who had been re-examined by the prosecution.
Defence counsels John Njuguna and Stanley Kangahi supported the application for adjournment but pleaded with the court to make it the last, saying they are ready to proceed.
Njuguna, representing Gathanju, expressed concern over endless adjournments by the complainant and the prosecution and blamed them for impeding the hearing and determination of the case.
"Since my client was charged, nothing much has happened as hearing of the case has never commenced. His name has been maligned and he needs his day in court so he can vindicate himself," Njuguna said.
Kangahi, who appeared for Muiruri, however, urged the court to proceed if the complainant fails to get legal representation, saying that after all the complainant gets automatic representation by the state through the prosecution.
While delivering her ruling, Atambo observed that the victims had no representation after the withdrawal and upheld the prosecution’s plea to adjourn the hearing to a later date to allow PCEA to put its house in order.
“Let this be the last adjournment on the part of the complainant. We cannot be stuck in this case for so long. I’ve given this case so much time,” she cautioned.
She warned all parties against wasting the court's time, saying the case must go on on agreed dates. "I’m not giving dates in vain; therefore, don’t come and waste this court’s time," she said.
Atambo, however, urged the parties to try an out-of-court settlement to save the church and consider the interests of the defence and the complainant. She set May 19, 20 and 21 as the hearing dates for the matter.