Kenyan Leader Sues Former U.S. Ambassador Over Murder Allegations

By Julius Mokaya | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Nairobi ( - Kenya's High Court Wednesday gave the country's president, Daniel arap Moi, and one of his senior ministers permission to sue a former U.S. ambassador for alleged defamation, and for allegedly portraying them as murderers.

Judge Alnashir Visram gave retired envoy Smith Hempstone of Bethesda, Md., 21 days to enter a defense in the case.

Visram said the application by Moi and Industry Minister Nicholas Biwott was urgent.

During his term as U.S. ambassador to Kenya between 1989 and 1993, Hempstone was an outspoken critic of Moi's government.

Earlier this week, Moi and Biwott sued Hempstone for alleged defamation, accusing him of implicating them in the murder of Foreign Minister Robert Ouko 11 years ago.

Ouko was found murdered in 1990 near his rural home, four days after he had returned from an official a trip to the United States. He had been shot and his body set alight with the help of gasoline. The mystery surrounding his death has never been solved.

In his 1997 memoirs, The Rogue Ambassador, Hempstone claimed Moi had been angry with his foreign minister because Ouko had received a warm welcome in Washington. Moi had also accused him of betraying state secrets, he said.

The BBC reports that in 1991, British police investigators told a Kenyan judicial inquiry that Biwott was a key suspect in the killing. He was sacked and briefly arrested, but then freed for lack of evidence.

Moi and his colleague have accused Hempstone of seeking to unjustly enrich himself by publishing malicious and unfounded lies.

They are seeking damages and a ban on the sale of the book in Kenya. Published in the U.S., the book is currently available in several Kenyan bookstores.

Moi's lawyers claim Hempstone offered no direct evidence in his book to back his claims linking the two politicians to the murder.

The judge said that the court was satisfied that the two applicants had good cause, even though Hempstone lived beyond the jurisdiction of the Kenyan court.

He ordered that the former ambassador be summoned through the U.S. embassy in Nairobi or other diplomatic channels.

U.S. embassy officials said Wednesday the mission was yet to receive any communication from the court relating to the case.